Hollins University and 14 other private nonprofit colleges in Virginia will be developing comprehensive plans to implement solar power, thanks to more than $807,000 in federal funding from the U.S. Department of Energy SunShot Initiative.
Sponsored by the Council of Independent Colleges in Virginia (CICV), the three-year program will help Hollins and the other colleges navigate the complex legal, regulatory, and technical challenges associated with installing solar systems, leverage group purchasing power to achieve price reductions for hardware and installation services, and create a learning network accessible by other organizations considering solar power. Consulting services will be provided to CICV by Optony, Inc., a global consulting firm focused on solar energy.
“CICV member colleges are interested in sustainability and reducing their carbon footprints,” said CICV President Robert Lambeth, who serves as principal investigator for the program. “Our recent success with a collaboration that now provides five of our colleges [including Hollins] with electricity generated from landfill gas provided the impetus for expanding our efforts to solar power.
“The SunShot Initiative presents an opportunity to work as a team to effectively make progress in an area that is challenging when working individually, particularly for our smaller schools that may be limited in the resources they can commit to installing solar.”
The funding is a landmark achievement for CICV, as it is the first time the organization has sought federal funds to further its mission of collaboration among its members.
“SunShot is CICV’s first attempt at securing federal money to help our members meet their sustainability goals,” said Director of Business Operations Anita Girelli. “We have had success with so many collaborative projects; it seemed natural to continue those efforts in an area that is of such importance to our members, their communities, and the environment.”
The ultimate goal is to create and implement a replicable plan for participating institutions to deploy solar electricity within five years. This project has the potential to substantially increase the total amount of solar power now produced within the Commonwealth of Virginia.
Drawing on expertise from select faculty and staff at participating colleges and universities, the project will eliminate duplication of effort and create a streamlined process for these institutions to plan for, acquire, and implement solar energy systems on their campuses. Students at participating schools will contribute their time and effort to the program.
“Involving students in the process from start to finish will provide educational opportunities and exposure to innovative and current topics – knowledge we hope will inspire them to continue sustainability efforts long after their college years,” said Girelli.
“While solar energy is not their primary mission, our member colleges are proud to be good stewards of the earth and positive role models for their students and communities,” said Lambeth. “Many [including Hollins] are signatories to the Presidents’ Climate Commitment and are committed to becoming climate neutral. Solar energy is one way to make progress toward those goals.”
Along with Hollins, the colleges involved in the collaborative initiative are Appalachian School of Law, Bridgewater College, Eastern Mennonite University, Emory & Henry College, Ferrum College, Hampton University, Lynchburg College, Mary Baldwin College, Marymount University, Randolph College, Roanoke College, Shenandoah University, Virginia Union University, and Washington & Lee University.