Setting the Standard for Sustainability; New Spider Solar Project Puts University of Richmond on Fast Track to Carbon Neutrality

August 27, 2018

Photo caption: Eden Solar, a 336 acre solar project located near Norman, North Carolina developed and operated by sPower. Spider Solar will span 130 acres. Image courtesy of sPower. 

The University of Richmond plans to purchase renewable energy from a large Virginia solar installation. The move makes UR the first institution of higher education in the southeast to match 100 percent of its electricity needs with solar energy.

A power purchase agreement with sPower, the largest private owner and operator of solar assets in the United States, will enable the construction of a 20-megawatt solar energy facility that will produce enough solar energy to match all of the university’s current electricity needs. Known as Spider Solar, a nod to the university’s mascot, the installation will be located 50 miles from UR’s campus in Spotsylvania County and is expected to go online in early 2020.

The 47,000-panel Spider Solar array will produce 41,000 megawatt-hours of solar energy, neutralizing 19,720 metric tons of carbon annually, equivalent to the annual electricity use of 4,909 homes. For every watt of electricity UR uses, Spider Solar will replenish the electric grid with the same amount of renewable energy. The project reduces UR’s greenhouse gas emissions by nearly 60 percent while increasing the state’s solar capacity.

“Spider Solar demonstrates University of Richmond’s value of stewardship,” said UR’s Sustainability Director Rob Andrejewski. “It follows an arc of deepening environmental commitment from energy efficient practices to on-site solar to this large-scale renewable energy project that has benefits well beyond our campus boundaries.”

With Spider Solar UR will be one of only two higher education institutions in the U.S. to match 100 percent of its electricity needs with a single solar power source. In 2016 UR constructed the first solar array in the Commonwealth under Virginia’s new PPA pilot program, installing 749 solar panels on the roof of the Weinstein Center for Recreation and Wellness.

Senior Associate Vice President of Finance and Administration Mark Detterick says the agreement continues the university’s commitment to both environmental and financial stewardship.

“With Spider Solar we’re minimizing the university’s exposure to the energy market and ultimately have more control forecasting our utility expenses,” said Detterick. “This is a win-win situation as UR will be directly responsible for introducing additional renewable energy onto the grid without incurring the cost of owning or operating a large solar facility.”

In consultation with advisory service firm Edison Energy, UR’s agreement with sPower also includes a variety of new educational opportunities on campus, including research grants, scholarships, curriculum enhancements, and vocational education opportunities. The campus community will be able to monitor the solar array’s production via a real-time energy performance kiosk.

“As an educational institution it is critical that we partner with our students on sustainability solutions,” said George Souleret, director of utilities and campus champion for energy efficiency. “We want to empower our students to understand technologies so they can take on the local and global energy challenges of today and tomorrow.”

While Spider Solar will operate as a stand-alone solar photovoltaic array, it will be part of a larger 500-megawatt facility built and operated by sPower. Collectively these projects will make up the largest solar array in Virginia and one of the largest on the East Coast.

“We are thrilled about our partnership with the University of Richmond, an important member of our project community and a leading academic institution,” said sPower’s CEO Ryan Creamer. “We’re excited to help the University meet its long-term renewable energy goals and to have developed a broader partnership that will provide educational programming, student internships, and career opportunities to University of Richmond students for years to come.”

UR joins U.S. software giant, Microsoft, which recently announced its own commitment to solar energy, signing a 315-megawatt power purchase agreement with sPower’s Virginia facility in March.

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 sPower is owned by a joint venture partnership between The AES Corporation (NYSE: AES), a global energy company headquartered in Arlington, Virginia, and the Alberta Investment Management Corporation (AIMCo), one of Canada’s largest and most diversified institutional investment fund managers.