With the sun beating down, Democratic gubernatorial candidate Creigh Deeds rode a crane to get a closer look at a new solar panel installation at the Virginia Commonwealth University physical plant.
Deeds visited the site at the invitation of Cityspace Solar owners Blue Crump and Justin French. Cityspace was hired to install the six-kilowatt system at the VCU physical plant as the university advances its plan to go green.
“This is the main power hub for VCU and MCV, so our intention wasn’t necessarily to generate a portion of that power,” said Crump.
Crump describes the 30-panel array installed on the side of the plant’s steam stack as an exhibition piece that shows VCU’s commitment to environmental stewardship. The plant itself uses natural gas to generate steam that powers turbines to create electricity for use by the university.
The solar installation, which cost about $60,000, will contribute a small portion of the plant’s electricity needs. A device connected with the panels will relay real-time information to the web so anyone can see exactly how much power is being generated at any given time.
“This system will generate renewable energy credits, which will create a positive cash flow for the university,” said Crump.
After getting an up-close look of the system, Deeds returned to the ground and gave a pep talk to the Cityspace and physical plant employees on the scene.
“Alternative energy,” Deeds said, “it’s going to happen, and the people that are ahead of the curve are going to make the money.”
One of Deeds’s key campaign issues is building the clean energy economy in Virginia.
“This is a great example of the leadership Virginia is going to have to show,” Deeds said. “We can be the capital of alternative energy sources.”
The new solar installation marks a major step for the university as it embarks on a mission to become “carbon neutral” by 2050, meaning the goal is to have a net zero carbon footprint.
“So if you go climate neutral by 2050, for a place like us you have to start getting your renewables on site,” said Jacek Ghosh, the university’s director of sustainability.
“This is a small demonstration project,” said Ghosh. “Over the next 40 years, we’ll start chipping away at all of this stuff.”
Ghosh said a comprehensive plan to achieve carbon neutrality would be released next May.
Because VCU is a state school, the big challenge facing the initiative is getting the state government to lend its support.
“Our issue for payback is when you see the coal train go by and we pay 68 cents a kilowatt, to compete with that this [solar] never does it, with three years return on investment it get a little different. If you use mitigation of greenhouse gas there is no question that it is worth the investment,” said Ghosh.
Ghosh said the state legislature has to come up with different ways in which the school is allowed to finance similar projects as a state institution.
“There the ones that say, ‘Payback, if it is more than four years, forget it,’” said Ghosh, “If you say that, we are always using coal.”