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Fairfax County is planning pilot projects to get different parts of the community more involved in reducing greenhouse gas emissions (via Fairfax County)

The clock is ticking on Fairfax County’s goal of achieving net-zero new carbon emissions by 2050.

With local government and school operations accounting for just 5% of all emissions, the county is developing a plan to help residents and organizations take action to reduce their carbon footprint and combat climate change.

Presented to the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors at an environmental committee meeting on Dec. 13, the proposal suggests starting to implement the Community-wide Energy and Climate Action Plan (CECAP) adopted in 2021 by partnering with businesses, nonprofits and others that will serve as “climate champions.”

“Every single person and organization can have negative or positive impacts for reducing our greenhouse gas emissions in time to prevent serious harm to our children, nature and communities,” Mount Vernon District Supervisor Dan Storck, chair of the environmental committee, said in a statement. “Each segment of our community…must have simple, easy, adoptable actions to get started and get done the changes we need.”

Expected to roll out early this year, the Climate Champions initiative will take a three-pronged approach, Office of Environmental and Energy Coordination (OEEC) staff told the board:

Having pilot projects focused on specific sectors will help the county tailor its resources, policies and messaging to their needs, Storck said.

A hotel owner, for instance, could provide insight into how their building could be more sustainable — and what incentives would make those changes feasible. Homeowners’ associations could raise awareness of programs like Solarize Fairfax County, which aims to reduce the cost of solar panel installations.

“We can sit in this room all we want, but we need messengers out there in the community, taking ownership of elements in CECAP to make sure we’re successful,” Board of Supervisors Chairman Jeff McKay said at the committee meeting.

Convincing churches and other places of worship to take action on climate change isn’t a challenge for FACS, a nonprofit with over 190 religious groups in Northern Virginia that has been a vocal advocate for CECAP and other environmental measures.

Many faith communities are already tackling climate projects, from solar sanctuaries that would turn them into refuges during power outages to staff at Reston’s St. John Neumann Catholic Church volunteering to clean up for events if they utilize reusable dishes and silverware to reduce waste.

The county’s pilot will help better coordinate those efforts and share ideas, while hopefully encouraging more congregations to get involved, FACS Executive Director Andrea McGimsey told FFXnow. Read More

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The Sully Community Center, which is slated to get rooftop solar panels this spring (staff photo by Jay Westcott)

More than three years into a groundbreaking agreement, this spring should bring solar power to one of Fairfax County’s facilities for the first time ever.

The county had 30 sites lined up for solar panels under a power purchase agreement (PPA) initiative that was touted the biggest ever undertaken by a Virginia locality when it was announced in December 2019.

Then, lease negotiations with the company contracted to install and operate the panels stalled, forcing the county to start from scratch with a different provider in July 2021.

“With the pandemic, there were supply chain issues within the solar industry and the cost of some construction materials went up,” said John Morrill, the county Office of Environment and Energy Coordination’s (OEEC) division manager for innovation and sustainability. “The county negotiated and accepted revised pricing from the vendors. But it’s still challenging, and the size of the system is still important to make the numbers work for both parties.”

Though the PPA initiative remains in place, the county is also pursuing other options to outfit its properties for solar power — specifically, incorporating it into new construction projects or enlisting energy services companies to do energy efficiency upgrades.

The solar project expected to be completed first will come from the general contractor hired to build the Sully Community Center, which opened in the Dulles area on Sept. 17.

The contractor is currently getting permits for the solar photovoltaic panels, putting the installation on track for completion by May, according to the Fairfax County Department of Public Works and Environmental Services.

The general contractor route will also ensure that the new Seven Corners Fire Station has solar panels when it opens in spring 2024. The existing station on Sleepy Hollow Road was demolished last month.

Projects are also in various stages of development for the Woodlawn and Reston fire stations, the Spring Hill Recreation Center in McLean, and the Pender building, which hosts the county’s Housing and Community Development offices.

For those sites, the county will buy solar panels from energy services companies hired to install them along with other efficiency upgrades. The fire stations are in the final design phase with delivery target dates in August, while the Spring Hill project is in engineering design and slated for completion in winter 2024.

The county is targeting October for the Pender building upgrades, which are “a bit more complex,” Morrill says. In addition to a rooftop solar array, the project will retrofit the facility’s lighting and replace some other infrastructure, according to a permit under review.

“This combination of approaches gives the county maximum flexibility, as smaller systems…are not suitable to the PPA model,” Morrill said. Read More

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A solar panel array has been proposed on the future HITT Contracting headquarters building at Virginia Tech’s Idylwood campus (via Fairfax County)

A massive array of solar panels could provide cover for the office building that developer Rushmark Properties and the construction company HITT Contracting are planning to build at Virginia Tech’s campus near the West Falls Church Metro station.

In a final development plan recently submitted to Fairfax County, the two companies — collectively known as Converge West Falls LLC — propose installing a photovoltaic array canopy on top of the building, which will house HITT’s corporate headquarters and laboratory space for Virginia Tech’s planned National Center for Smart Construction.

Standing approximately 117 feet tall, the canopy would encompass approximately 112,000 square feet, making it larger than the roof of the 270,000-square-foot building. It would have nine support columns ranging in height from 91 to 111 feet, per the application.

“The tree-like columns provide a structural solution while also creating the sense of lift and grandeur emulating a modern woodland canopy,” Walsh Colucci land use lawyer Andrew Painter said in a Nov. 22 statement for the applicant. “The multifunctional solar array canopy also shades the building from the sun, as one of the proposed building’s energy-reduction measures.”

The array is expected to generate between 1,100 and 1,400 megawatts of electricity — enough to supply most of the building’s energy, the application says.

The solar panels are one of several amenities detailed in a trio of plans filed last week to expand Virginia Tech’s Northern Virginia Center at 7054 Haycock Road.

Block A

Most of the office building — 230,000 square feet — would be devoted to HITT’s headquarters, but Virginia Tech would have up to 40,000 square feet on the northern side for educational purposes. A maximum height of 97 feet and six stories has been proposed.

Under the submitted plan, the building would be served by a below-grade parking garage and a 23,500-square-foot entry plaza on the south side with built-in benches, movable tables and chairs, “playful” lighting, and garden areas with native tree, pollinator and flower plantings.

“A large depression pond that exists on the site will be repurposed into a bioretention garden to treat stormwater run-off and provide visual interest along Falls Church Drive,” Painter wrote.

Block B

Further south on the 7.5-acre site between Mustang Alley and Falls Church Drive will be a 532,000-square-foot multifamily building with 440 residential units and 18,000 square feet of ground-floor retail.

A multifamily residential building proposed for the redevelopment of Virginia Tech’s Northern Virginia Center campus (via Fairfax County)

Converge is planning to offer a mix of one, two and three-bedroom units that “will be larger than the current industry trend to better accommodate families,” according to the application. The building will be up to 139 feet tall, descending to 82 feet along Falls Church Drive. Read More

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The office building at 11091 Sunset Hills Road in Reston (via Google Maps)

A solar and roofing company is moving its location in McLean to Reston — a $350,000 relocation that is expected to bring more than 400 jobs, Gov. Glenn Youngkin announced today.

Currently based at 6862 Elm Street, SmartRoof is expected to create the additional jobs over the next five years, according to the announcement. It will be relocated to 11901 Sunset Hills Road.

“SmartRoof’s mission is to positively impact lives through roofing and solar,” SmartRoof founder and CEO Joshua Jerge said. “This starts with our employees and ripples through the local communities where we work. We were founded in Virginia and are excited for the opportunity to keep our headquarters in Fairfax County and improve the lives of Virginians for years to come!”

The company, which was founded in 2016, uses technology to make homes smart. It services Northern Virginia, Maryland, Eastern Pennsylvania, Southern Jersey, Northern Delaware, Washington, D.C., and Florida, and has helped over 7,500 customers.

A move to Maryland was a possibility, but the Virginia Economic Development Partnership worked with the Fairfax County Economic Development Authority to secure the project for Virginia, according to the governor’s office press release.

Here’s what state and local officials said about the relocation:

“SmartRoof is an innovative, Virginia-founded company that is changing the standard of service in the roofing industry, and it is exciting to see one of our homegrown businesses thrive and expand,” said Governor Glenn Youngkin. “With one of the nation’s largest transportation networks, a skilled workforce pipeline, and a pro-business climate, the Commonwealth is an ideal location for SmartRoof to reach its growing customer base.”

“We are proud to partner with companies like SmartRoof that support high-quality job creation in the Commonwealth,” said Secretary of Commerce and Trade Caren Merrick. “This Virginia company has built its business based on exceptional quality, customer service, and rapidly evolving product offerings, and we look forward to supporting SmartRoof’s continued growth in Fairfax County.”

“SmartRoof’s mission is to positively impact lives through roofing and solar,” said Joshua Jerge, CEO and Founder of SmartRoof. “This starts with our employees and ripples through the local communities where we work. We were founded in Virginia and are excited for the opportunity to keep our headquarters in Fairfax County and improve the lives of Virginians for years to come!”

“It’s great to see SmartRoof growing their presence in Fairfax County and adding hundreds of new jobs,” said Jeffrey C. McKay, Chairman of the Board of Supervisors. “Our climate change resilience will be powered by solar and other alternative forms of energy, and SmartRoof is helping to lead that effort in both residential and commercial locations. We’re proud to have their headquarters here and look forward to their continued innovation.”

“Congratulations to SmartRoof on their expansion in Fairfax County,” said Senator Janet Howell. “SmartRoof is a fantastic example of an innovative company that doesn’t just add significant value to Fairfax County’s economy, their focus on giving back to our community is very welcome and appreciated.”

Photo via Google Maps

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Annandale High School (via Google Maps)

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.

Photo via Google Maps

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Solar Panels (via Flickr/Minoru Karamatsu)

After years of effort, solar panels are finally coming to the I-95 Landfill Complex in Lorton.

The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors unanimously approved a motion on Sept. 13 to lease about 40 acres of the county-owned closed landfill within the complex to Sun Tribe Solar to install, operate, and maintain an array of ground-mounted solar panels.

Sun Tribe Solar, in turn, will let the county purchase renewable energy generated at the site with little upfront or operational costs, which staff say will help the county reduce its greenhouse emissions.

With the company quoting a rate of about 11 cents per kilowatt hour with no escalation over the life of the agreement, the county expects to save money immediately — about $51,000 in the first year of operation and over $1 million cumulatively by year eight.

Thought to be the first such project in the Commonwealth, the panels are expected to be installed and go online by the end of 2024, Fairfax County Department of Public Works and Environmental Services (DPWES) Deputy Director Eric Forbes said at the meeting.

A map of where the solar panels will go at the I-95 Landfill Complex (via Fairfax County)

As a number of supervisors noted, though, it was a long time coming, with a number of challenges along the way.

Despite solid local support, the county needed approval from the Virginia General Assembly for solar panels to be installed on its land. The county was exploring the project at least as early as 2017, but every time it was taken to the state legislature, their request was denied.

The needed permission came at last from the 2020 Solar Freedom Act, which included a specific clause providing Fairfax County the go-ahead for the landfill project.

“I really wish this had happened a long time ago when I was chair of the environment committee because that’s when we first started having this discussion,” Mason District Supervisor Penny Gross said. “[A closed landfill] is perfect for solar. If it had not been for that pesky Virginia General Assembly not allowing it unless there was a change in the legislation, we would have done this a long time ago and would have been way ahead of the game.”

Gross wasn’t the only one to express frustration at the state holding up a project that the county says will increase its use of renewable energy while also saving money. Read More

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Gas-powered leaf blower (via Wikimedia Commons/Cbaile19)

With fall just around the corner, Fairfax County has begun to phase out gas-powered leaf blowers in favor of battery-powered blowers.

Last week, the county announced that its Park Authority and Department of Public Works and Environmental Services (DPWES) are “in the process of phasing out gas-powered blowers” in favor of “exclusively purchasing” battery-powered blowers.

“Having a gas-powered leaf blower operating in your vicinity is like inviting someone to blow a cloud of potentially dangerous chemicals, dust, and other pollutants in your direction,” the county website says. “A gas-powered leaf blower produces exhaust containing both hydrocarbons and nitrous oxides both of which are components of smog.”

The county is encouraging all contractors and residents to follow suit, saying battery-powered equipment is quieter, cleaner, and can be more cost-efficient to operate.

In November 2021, the Board of Supervisors overwhelmingly passed a board matter introduced by Braddock District Supervisor James Walkinshaw that called for a stop to the use of gas-powered leaf blowers.

In a statement to FFXnow, Walkinshaw said the county is “making good on that promise.”

Last year, the Board approved my motion to phase-out the use of gas-powered leaf blowers and lawn equipment on County-owned property. Now, I am pleased to say that we are making good on that promise by replacing the existing County inventory with electric blowers and incentivizing the use of electric equipment by our landscaping contractors.

Gas-powered leaf blowers can emit 23 times the carbon dioxide of a Ford F-150 and operate at noise levels that can cause hearing damage. This is about Fairfax County being a good neighbor to those living near our facilities and helping to accelerate a shift to electric landscaping equipment. I’m hopeful that incentivizing the use of electric equipment through our procurement process will encourage more local landscaping contractors to make that shift, giving residential and commercial property owners more choices in the marketplace.

Supervisors had hoped the county’s adoption of the ordinance would encourage the Virginia General Assembly to do the same. While other nearby localities have also taken up this issue in recent years, a recent House bill failed to get out of committee.

Fairfax County’s conversion may unfold gradually. Although the process started in December, there is no concrete timeline yet for when all the gas-powered blowers will be phased out, acting FCPA Public Information Officer Roberta Korzen told FFXnow.

“The gas-powered blowers will be phased out and replaced with battery-powered blowers at the end of their life cycle,” Korzen wrote in an email. A gas-powered leaf blower can last up to 10 years with proper maintenance.

The park authority currently has only seven battery-powered blowers, compared to more than 100 gas-powered ones. That number doesn’t include contractors.

It’s unknown how many gas-powered blowers are used by county contractors, but Korzen said the county “encourages the use of battery-powered blowers by its contractors.”

FCPA estimates it will cost about $150,000 to phase out the equipment.

“As funding and supply is available we are purchasing battery-powered blowers. We have made a few purchases to date. We are hoping additional funding will be available in the near future,” Korzen said.

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Morning Notes

A guard tower on the former Lorton Prison grounds, now turned into the Workhouse Arts Center (staff photo by Angela Woolsey)

Man Dies After Crash in Oakton — “A 78-year-old man has died from injuries sustained in a single-vehicle crash that occurred at 2:01 p.m. on March 30 in Oakton. Thomas Peregoy of Alexandria was driving eastbound on Lawyers Road near Kedge Drive when his 2014 Toyota Tacoma drifted off the roadway to the right, striking a tree head on.” [FCPD]

Genomic Sequencing Could Help ID “Christmas Tree Lady” — “For 25 years, the Fairfax County police have tried and failed to identify ‘the Christmas Tree Lady,’ so named because she placed an 8-inch Christmas tree with gold balls and red ribbons on the clear plastic sheet she put on the ground…She is the only person to die by suicide in Fairfax whom authorities have been unable to identify, before or since.” [The Washington Post]

County Launches Month-Long Solar Energy Campaign — “Fairfax County is pleased and proud to participate in the annual Solarize campaign, which brings residents and businesses bulk discounts on solar systems…Through the program, you can receive a free satellite assessment of your property to determine if it is suitable for solar.” [Office of Environmental and Energy Coordination]

Fort Belvoir Hospital Trauma Center Verified — “Fort Belvoir Community Hospital has received Level lll Trauma Center verification after demonstrating its ability to provide prompt assessment, surgery, intensive care and emergency operations…The only other verified trauma center in Northern Virginia is Inova Fairfax Hospital, a Level I facility.” [Inside NoVA]

Carjacking Reported in Mount Vernon — A man was driving in the 3700 block of Rolling Hills Avenue on March 26 when four men in a brown Nissan Altima blocked his vehicle. “The men then got out of the Altima, displayed a firearm and assaulted the victim,” police say. “The men then left the area in the victim’s car. The victim was treated for injuries not considered life threatening.” [FCPD]

McLean Arts Nonprofit Plans Spring Shows — The McLean Project for the Arts will host its first-ever “Spring Solo” exhibitions starting on April 14. The nonprofit received over 130 proposals, according to its artistic director and curator. Work from three artists, two from D.C. and one from Arlington, will be on display through June 11. [Sun Gazette]

Reston Community Center Announces Spring Programming — “Some of RCC’s most popular seasonal experiences are already sold out (Eggnormous Egg Hunt, Crafternoons), so don’t wait to enroll in the activities that still have space for children and their families!” [RCC]

It’s Monday — Partly cloudy throughout the day. High of 56 and low of 34. Sunrise at 6:50 a.m. and sunset at 7:36 p.m. [Weather.gov]

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Gas-powered leaf blower (via Cbaile19/Wikimedia Commons)

Fairfax County will phase out the use of gas-powered leaf blowers in county operations.

Gas-powered leaf blowers are too noisy, dirty, and do not adhere to the newly-adopted Community-wide Energy and Climate Action Plan, according to several county supervisors. Instead, officials are recommending the use of electric equipment, along with leaf and grasscycling.

Braddock District Supervisor James Walkinshaw presented a joint board matter directing county staff to develop a plan for ending gas-powered leaf blower purchases at last week’s Board of Supervisors meeting. The board approved the matter by a vote of 9-1 with Springfield District Supervisor Pat Herrity dissenting.

“The use of gas-powered leaf blowers presents a number of problems,” said Walkinshaw at the meeting. “Most prominently, their extreme and pentertraing noise levels and the highly toxic emissions from the out of date two stroke engines.”

Walkinshaw noted that the blowers operate at a noise level that could potentially cause hearing damage. He also mentioned that they are inefficient in terms of its output and emit 23 times the amount of carbon dioxide as a Ford pickup truck.

The board matter additionally calls for contractors that work for the county to begin transitioning away from this type of equipment, encouraged by incentives from the county.

“By taking an incentive-based approach to our procurement policies, we can jumpstart the transition from dirty and noisy gas-powered blowers,” wrote Walkinshaw in a statement. “This initiative sends a strong signal to landscaping contractors that now is the time to invest in cleaner equipment.”

However, specific incentives were not discussed and will be established “when staff reports back,” a spokesperson from Walkinshaw’s office wrote to FFXnow in an email.

As of yet, there’s no deadline established for the phase out.

During the meeting, Hunter Mill District Supervisor Walter Alcorn noted that the county currently owns 133 gas-powered leaf blowers.

However, that number doesn’t include ones used by contractors who work for the county, a spokesperson from Walkinshaw’s office confirmed.

Alcron said he still hoped that this idea of banning gas blowers would be also adopted by the Virginia General Assembly, but stated that the county’s adoption was “clearly a step in the right direction.”

McKay acknowledged converting to an entirely electric fleet of blowers could be very expensive for some contractors, but hopes that the county phasing out this type of equipment is “leading by example.”

A cost estimate for phasing out this equipment isn’t available yet, but it’s expected to be minimal, according to Walkinshaw’s office.

Photo via Cbaile19/Wikimedia Commons

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