The Culpeper Technical Education Center will generate its own power from the sun upon opening later this fall.
Initially an “add-on,” if enough budget funds were available, more than $1 million worth of solar panels will go on the metal roof designed to accommodate them at the new public high school nearing completion on the campus of Germanna Community College.
Financing for the renewable energy wish-list project came from surplus funds from three other Culpeper County Public Schools projects that finished under budget, Superintendent Tony Brads told the Board of Supervisors at its meeting last week.
“We’re at the punch list stage now,” he said of impending project end. “What Culpeper has done within a pandemic is an incredible thing.”
Brads said the south-facing school was designed for solar power, including conversion equipment already installed as part of the $17.3 million construction project that started in the fall of 2019.
“To be net zero, produces its own power. This was not an after-thought, but it had to be put on hold,” he said.
The superintendent said the school system will purchase and install its own panels at CTEC. This is the cheaper option versus entering into a long-term purchase power contract with an outside entity, Brads said.
“Now’s the time and we have the money. We are very excited about how close we are to the end of this project,” he said.
Cedar Mountain Supervisor Jack Frazier felt the surplus million dollars could be better spent on some other public school capital project.
“What’s so advantageous about doing this at this time?” he asked.
The solar panels will save on energy for years to come, Brads said. The project will pay for itself in about 10 years, he said, with annual savings in power costs of around $100,000. Electric car charging stations at the school are also possible, Brads said.
“We can control our own power generation—that is better for us,” the superintendent said.
He said the solar power system was not overbuilt—enough to serve the building and some charging stations. Warrantied panels will have a 30-year lifespan, Brads said.
“Everybody going up and down 29 will see that … it will be a destination facility,” he said. “Slap some solar on there, take it up one more notch.”
Salem Supervisor Tom Underwood said $100,000 per year in savings was a good return on investment. Frazier said it would take 10 years to recoup the cost.
Chairman Gary Deal supported solar at CTEC, calling it a future selling point and a model for recruiting economic development, possibly a new data center, to the area designated as a technology zone. The board unanimously approved reallocating funds for the project.