(6th-Grade Community Problem Solver Tre Booth describes the solar farm that is projected to save Middlesex County schools $2.6 Million over the next 25 years at the NAPS "Solar in Northumberland" seminar, Saturday Feb. 23 in Heathsville.)
The sun was nowhere to be seen, but that did not stop a crowd of over 60 attendees from learning about the benefits of solar energy at the “Solar in Northumberland” symposium hosted by the Northumberland Association for Progressive Stewardship (NAPS) on Saturday, February 23, 2019, in the Fellowship Hall at Heathsville United Methodist Church.
The two-hour program included presentations by solar homeowners, representatives from the solar industry, and the Northumberland County Middle School “Community Problem Solvers.” Under the leadership of Shauna McCranie, Talented and Gifted Student Coordinator, the young problem solvers are leading the push for solar at Northumberland County schools. They presented their proposal to the School Board on January 16.
Hot coffee, lemonade, cookies and other snacks were provided by NAPS members, who greeted audience members at the door and handed them a reusable NAPS grocery bag, along with the symposium program.
NAPS president Mike Ahart welcomed the audience and presented an overview of “Solar Power Basics,” from how photovoltaic solar cells work, to the recent Northumberland County zoning amendments allowing homeowners to install solar “by-right.” “The technology has improved, the costs have come down, and tax credits are still in place, so it’s a great time for residents--and schools--to consider solar,” Ahart said.
Next up was Randy Hinman, a senior solar advisor with Powur PBC, a residential solar installation provider. Hinman provided current information about the benefits of solar energy and fielded questions from the audience. While cost savings is what attracts many homeowners to go solar, other benefits include “price protection, protecting the environment, and energy independence,” according to Hinman. “And many people don’t realize they can get solar with no upfront costs,” he added.
Bette and Roger Gruben followed with a real-world case study of the cost savings of solar energy from a homeowner perspective. They shared details about incrementally adding solar arrays for their home and guest house over the past nine years, and how each of the investments paid for itself in just a few years. Bette Gruben, a former green-building consultant, designed their home with solar energy in mind. The solar arrays often produce as much electricity as their 3,000 square foot home consumes, plus enough to charge their Tesla all-electric vehicle. “The Northern Neck Electric meter runs backward when we are generating more power than we are using,” the Grubens explained, and most months they are billed only the $29 grid connection fee.The Grubens also earn money by selling their Solar Renewable Energy Credits (SRECs) to other energy producers which need to meet required minimums. Click/tap here for presentation details.
While solar-powered homes are becoming more popular and cost-effective, many schools in the region are saving money by adding rooftop and ground array solar, also providing an opportunity for the students to educate the community about the benefits of solar. The Northumberland Middle School sixth-grade Community Problem Solvers presentation, “Solar Schools Save Money,” demonstrated that they had done their homework. TAG instructor Shauna McCranie introduced the group. Seven of the students involved in the project spoke in turn about what Northumberland County would gain by powering the schools with solar energy. They reported on what they learned from information-gathering field trips to the Grubens’ home and guest house, and to Middlesex County’s elementary and middle schools which have recently added solar. (click here to watch a video about the solar farm). Their presentation also included details about the cost-savings, environmental benefits, and educational opportunities of solar energy for Northumberland schools. It would be “very cool to have a solar school,” said student Olivia Byrd during the presentation. They also mentioned that Westmoreland County's Cople Elementary has also added a solar farm. See photos of each of the student speakers in the slideshow at bottom of article.
The final presentation was provided by Erik Curren, Chief Marketing and Business Development Officer for Secure Futures, one of the several solar energy companies that provide solar power to schools using a Power Purchase Agreement (PPA). With a PPA, the school system makes no investment, pays lower rates for electricity immediately, and the rates do not rise for the typically 25-year contract. Curren addressed the middle schoolers by saying, “You don’t realize how much power you have.” Young people are the ones who must the lead the way to cleaner energy, he added.
Curren’s presentation featured a short video about a student from Albemarle County who successfully led an initiative for his high school to go solar, and his younger sister who shares his inspiration and now attends the solar-powered school. Curran concluded his talk by urging parents, teachers, and community members to support the students in their proposal to county administrators.
At the conclusion of the program, attendees had the opportunity to meet the speakers and ask questions about solar energy. Literature from NAPS, Powur PBC, Secure Futures, and Solar United Neighbors Virginia, a non-profit resource for everything solar, were displayed and available for attendees.
Afterward, NAPS held its Annual Meeting with members and other interested attendees. President Mike Ahart reviewed NAPS’ many accomplishments for 2018, and the group discussed plans for 2019. Board members Janice Mahoney, Shauna McCranie and Mike Ahart were unanimously elected to a second term on the board. New board member Tommy Armstrong was unable to attend but was officially recognized at the meeting.
Click any image below to launch slideshow