Loudoun County Public Schools and Solar: It Makes Financial and Environmental Sense

Always interesting to me how some folks insist solar is not a smart investment for public facilities and in my continuing disappointment in how my own public school system, Loudoun County Public Schools, has not pursued solar as aggressively as other public school divisions in Virginia I decided to do a little homework.

I took the opportunity to submit a Freedom of Information request for the electricity bills for my home high school in Purcellville - Loudoun Valley High School (LVHS) for 2017. In 2017 the school utilized 2,660,589 kWh of electricity for an overall bill of $263,340.04. 

As I wrote previously public facilities pay less than what a typical homeowner pays per kWh (11 cents), the school, however, like all customers, pays a number of riders (extra costs) on their bill. Such riders for LVHS include Rider R Bear Garden Generation Station, Rider S Virginia City Hybrid Energy Center, Rider T Transmission, Rider B Biomass Conversions, Rider W Warren County Power Station, Rider BW Brunswick County Power Station and Rider GV Greensville County Power Station. 

In all when you take the amount of electricity utilized and divide it by the total cost you arrive at 9.9 cents per kWh. This is an important number to remember.

Taking a look at Loudoun Valley High School via the www.novasolarmap.com web site it was determined that a solar array greater than 1MW in capacity could fit on the roof of LVHS. For purposes of this exercise I limited the array to 1MW.

A 1MW solar array at current prices ($1.50 per watt) would cost approximately $1.5 million dollars to install (depends on equipment, etc). A system of this size according to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) would generate on an annual basis 1,318,087 kWh per year - nearly 50% of the use of LVHS.  The value of those electrons (calculated at 9.9 cents per kWh) would be $130,440.43.

Realizing the school system would use long term debt to finance the cost of the project, using 2.98% as the interest rate (most recently achieved by the County this past June) the resulting  debt service for the project (utilizing a 20 year bond) would be $8303.95 per month or $99,647.40 on an annual basis. In reality, the County generally issues Bond Anticipation Notes as a project begins (which have a lower interest rate) and also uses cash for a certain percentage of the project which would lower the overall annual cost, but for purposes of this analysis I wanted to be as conservative as possible nor do I factor in any sort of inflation for the cost of electricity which is approximately 2% +/- on annual basis.

Amortization Table

I realize this is a lot of numbers, but here is the bottom line.

$263,340.04 Dominion Energy Bill for LVHS in 2017
$232,547.01 Bill with solar offset, amortization & Dominion Energy Charges
$30,793.03 Annual Savings

Environmental Impact

In addition to the budgetary savings there is an environmental impact as well. A 1MW array according the to the Environmental Protection Agency Greenhouse Gas calculator would reduce CO2 emissions annually by 1,081 tons or the equivalent to the CO2 emissions of 1,073,242 pounds of coal being burned or 110,380 gallons of gasoline being consumed.

Now with every project there is risk and I certainly understand that some may not be interested in doing so; that is where the private sector comes in.

Private Sector Investment

As I wrote previously, there are private sector firms willing to install the solar at no cost to Loudoun County Public Schools. Arlington County has recently issued an RFP and is currently working to select a vendor. Fairfax County government is in the process of developing an RFP to work with the private sector to provide solar on their facilities as well.

Unlike several years ago when solar did not pencil out for public facilities I believe now is the opportunity to take the step and to show that Loudoun, like our neighbors in Arlington, Fairfax and other local school systems in Virginia, should step up to the plate.

Issue the RFP to determine the public sector's interest in providing clean, lower cost energy to our facilities. And, provide opportunities for our students to learn -- it really is about the future.

Sure there will be some who will quibble, but in the end nothing is lost by taking the step to make our local schools more sustainable and resilient for the future.

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