Solar power is coming to Meridian High School this summer, and the Little City will soon be soaking up the environmental benefits.
Beginning in late June, the installation of solar panels at Meridian High School will be the latest environmentally sustainable feature in Falls Church City Public Schools (FCCPS). According to a June 8 article by the Falls Church Climate Action Network (FCCAN), these installations will deliver a “significant part of the electric power needed to operate the building and taking a step toward the City goal of drastically reducing greenhouse gas emissions from its operations.”
Madison Energy Investments, a Vienna-based funder of distributed generation projects, will install 818 panels that will supply roughly 20 percent of all the power used by Meridian. Madison Energy Investments develops, finances, constructs, owns and operates renewable energy assets including solar, battery storage and EV charging.
Ben Hunter, the executive vice president of operations at Madison Energy, said the solar panels will produce “roughly 20 percent of total electricity,” and generate “direct current (DC) power” from insolation (sunlight, or solar energy) that will then be converted to alternating current (AC) power that can be used to power the school’s operations and offset electrical consumption.
“It hopefully shows that rooftop solar projects can have a significant impact on FCC’s overall environmental sustainability goals and helps build momentum for more rooftop solar projects in the city,” Hunter said.
According to the FCCAN article, the project is being implemented through a 25-year “power-purchase agreement” with SunTribe Solar, a solar installation company based in Charlottesville.
FCCPS Chief Operating Officer Kristen Michael said when the new building for Meridian was built, it was designed to be “net-zero energy ready” and partnered with SunTribe Solar to help install solar panels as part of the school’s environmental goals. FCCAN’s article states that FCCPS will pay a fixed cost for power from the solar panel over 25 years of $0.131 per kilowatt hour (kWh), while SunTribe Solar will pay to install and maintain the system.
“Our school system has a deep and long-term commitment to sustainability,” Michael said. “With the opportunity of building a new high school, we were very fortunate to have support from the school board, city council and our community in terms of really looking to be as sustainable as we could.”
The panels will be installed on the roof of Meridian, with Foster saying that they are anticipating the system to be operational by “late 2023.” To ensure a connection to the school’s curriculum, a power production meter will be provided so that students can use it in areas such as math and social studies.
“When we built our high school, we incorporated energy dashboards as part of our sustainability curriculum,” Michael said. “We’ve been really engaging our students in the instructional process with sustainability, [as it] is an absolutely perfect alignment with our goals in terms of instruction.”
This is not the first energy-efficient feature Meridian has. Geothermal and high-efficiency Variable Refrigerant Flow (VFR) units for heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC), high-performance building envelope and LED lights throughout the building are just a few examples of energy-saving initiatives that have qualified the building for a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Gold certification.
Meridian is the only FCCPS campus having solar panels installed because the new roof can accommodate the panels, while other schools may need to have their roofs replaced in order to install the panels. Michael further said the school system will “look to opportunities to incorporate solar” for the other schools in the future.
“We’re generating electricity from solar, reducing our need for electricity that is powered from other sources,” Michael said. “Hopefully, this will be the first of many projects that we do in terms of incorporating solar.”