iStockPhoto.com

With a landmark solar-power agreement that will run through 2043, the University has taken a major step toward its goal of lowering its carbon footprint. In a deal made in December, UVA agreed to purchase electrical output from a solar farm that Dominion Virginia Power is building in King William County and is expected to be operational sometime next year.

Don Sundgren Jennifer Watson

“We’re the first higher-ed institution in the Commonwealth to enter into agreement with Dominion for a solar field like this,” says Don Sundgren, UVA’s associate vice president and chief facilities officer. “We are the sole user of the field—100 percent of the electricity produced by the field will be produced on the behalf of the University of Virginia.”

Sundgren says all of the energy from the farm will go into a grid. From there, it will be distributed to Dominion customers throughout the state. For producing the energy, UVA receives renewable energy credits, 25 percent of which it is giving to the Darden School of Business as its partner in the venture. Through the arrangement, Sundgren says Darden will be able to attain its zero-carbon goal by 2020. Overall, the Dominion deal is expected to shave 11 percent off the University’s carbon footprint. In 2009, the University pledged to reduce its footprint 25 percent by 2025.

The latest growth projections, which factor in expansion at the Batten and McIntire schools (among other things), show UVA must cut energy use by roughly half to reach that benchmark, according to Sundgren.

UVA’s senior vice president for operations, Colette Sheehy, says there has been a large contingent of alumni who have been “pushing the University pretty hard” in the area of sustainability. Grey McLean (Col ’95), one of the founders of Wahoos for Sustainability, has been at the forefront. “We’re thrilled by the project,” McLean says. “We feel UVA has demonstrated real leadership on sustainability.”

Because of a nondisclosure agreement, the University can’t reveal what it is paying Dominion, Sheehy says. She says there’s a fixed purchase price that can be adjusted annually, but because the power will be going into a grid and not directly to UVA,  a variable selling price. In that regard, Sundgren says there is a risk-reward aspect to the deal. “What we pay may be more or less than the market rate for which that electricity is sold,” he says. Sheehy says the University deemed the risk “manageable.”