For the first time, the Fairfax County School Board has approved a contract to install rooftop solar panels on a school building, a move both board members and advocates said has been a long time coming.
Under a solar power purchase agreement (PPA) that the board authorized Thursday (Nov. 3), Annandale High School will receive solar panels as a pilot program to give Fairfax County Public Schools “a working knowledge of these installations,” Mason District Representative Ricardy Anderson said before the vote.
While FCPS has 10 schools with solar panels, those serve more as educational tools than power sources. Coupled with the recent addition of electric school buses, the Annandale project represents a notable step in the school system’s efforts to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions and adopt renewable energy.
“Moving this pilot forward and committing to its expansion across the entire school division is an essential part of meeting the board’s goal of carbon neutrality by 2040,” Providence District Representative Karl Frisch said. “…To address the climate crisis, every level of government must act. Tonight’s vote is further proof that our board is committed to doing that.”
After conducting a physical inspection of Annandale High, vendor Ipsun Solar will begin the panel installation sometime in late 2023 or early 2024, an FCPS spokesperson told FFXnow. A follow-up inquiry about that timeline didn’t get a response by press time.
FCPS is also working to advance projects at Chantilly High School, Thoreau Middle School, Hayfield and Robinson secondary schools, and Terreset and Mason Crest elementary schools before the end of this year, according to Frisch and Anderson.
“Schools were selected by the vendors based on a number of categories that contribute to the campus’ overall solar viability. These categories included the roof type, the roof age and solar generation capacity,” Anderson said, noting that Annandale High was proposed as the pilot site “because of its high solar generation potential.”
The approval comes more than a year after the school board agreed to advance a solar program in May 2021 and almost three years after Fairfax County launched its solar PPA initiative in December 2019.
Touting the initiative as the largest undertaken by a locality in Virginia, the county awarded contracts to three different vendors to bring rooftop- and canopy-mounted solar panels to an initial slate of 113 sites, including 87 school buildings.
In a power purchase agreement, the solar provider owns the panels and is responsible for the installation, operation, and maintenance costs. The buyer — in this case, FCPS — carries no upfront costs but must still pay the provider and Dominion Energy or another utility for the electricity.
For Annandale High, Ipsun will charge $0.102 per kilowatt hour for the electricity generated over a 25-year period, with the rate increasing 2% annually after five years of operations. FCPS estimates that the payments will total about $2.2 million, saving it between $11,000 and $22,000 in energy costs per year, on average.
“They’re going to save a lot of money on this one school over the life of the contract. Now, multiply that over, you know, the next hundred schools, and we’re saving a lot of taxpayer dollars,” said Susan Stillman, an at-large executive committee member for Sierra Club Virginia.
Multiple school board members praised Stillman and Solar on Our Schools — a student advocacy group formed by James Madison High School students with Stillman’s support in 2015 — for pushing FCPS to pursue solar energy projects.
The school system’s first solar PPA contract took longer to arrive than hoped, largely due to conflicts that led the county to terminate its contract with original rooftop vendor Sigora Solar, but Stillman says she’s now “just excited that they’re going to get started.”
She and fellow environmental advocate Scott Peterson, the co-founder and vice chair of Faith Alliance for Climate Solutions, both credited Superintendent Michelle Reid and acting Assistant Superintendent for Transportation and Facilities Chuck Fanshaw for breaking “the logjam” to make the agreement happen.
“This shows the public and students, who are going to have to live in a climate-changed world, that FCPS cares about the young people that they’re educating,” Stillman said.
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