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Catholic University Plans to Install Largest Solar-Energy System of Washington DC

CUA Partners with Washington Gas Energy Services and Standard Solar to Create Washington’s Largest Solar-Energy System

More than 1,000 solar panels will be installed on four Catholic University buildings this fall, creating the largest solar-energy system in the Washington, D.C., metropolitan area.

CUA has signed a 20-year agreement with Washington Gas Energy Services Inc. (WGES) to purchase electricity generated by the solar panels at guaranteed prices.

In November, Standard Solar Inc. of Gaithersburg, Md., will install 1,088 3-by-6-foot solar panels on the roofs of the Raymond A. DuFour Center and Aquinas, Flather and Gibbons halls. Collectively, the panels will comprise the largest photovoltaic system in the Washington area, in terms of electricity that will be produced.

The solar-panel system, which will be installed at no cost to CUA and be owned and operated by WGES, will produce about 340,000 kilowatt hours of electricity each year. The projected solar-generated electricity represents about three-quarters of 1 percent of the 44 million kilowatt hours used annually by the university. The electricity will be used by the buildings where it is produced.

By the end of the year, installation of 30,233 square feet of solar panels will be completed and the panels will be producing electricity. The four buildings were chosen for their southern exposure, among other criteria, after an evaluation of 20 campus buildings.

“As part of our Catholic faith, we strive to be good environmental stewards,” said Very Rev. David M. O’Connell, C.M., president of Catholic University. “Including solar — a ‘clean’ energy that doesn’t pollute or create greenhouse gases — among Catholic University’s resources is a perfect fit for the university’s mission.”

The agreement is the latest accomplishment in CUA’s commitment to being environmentally friendly. In 2002, CUA was the first university in the Washington area to purchase a portion of its electricity through wind power. In 2008, the university received an Award of Excellence from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for its recycling efforts. In January 2009, CUA opened the first new LEED-compliant student residence hall in Washington, D.C.

“The price of electricity, as we see it right now, is going to rise,” said Brian Alexander, director of energy and utilities management at CUA. “With this 20-year agreement, we will save money on our energy costs.”

“By hosting this project, CUA is also helping the District of Columbia achieve its citywide solar energy goals,” said Harry Warren, president of WGES of Herndon, Va. “The Clean and Affordable Energy Act of 2008 calls for a growing contribution from solar energy each year through 2020, and CUA’s project will contribute about 10 percent of the city’s total solar power production goal for 2010.”

CUA has incorporated teaching moments in the project. Students, faculty and staff will have access via the CUA Web site to real-time data on the campus’ solar energy production. Engineering and architectural students will get a first-hand look at the installation. And a solar-energy design competition for students is being planned by the School of Engineering, which this year added an alternative and renewable energy concentration to its curriculum.

“Solar energy produces no carbon-dioxide emissions. Soon, almost 1 percent of the power we use will be climate beneficial,” Alexander said. With the use of solar-generated electricity, CUA will produce 332 fewer tons of carbon emissions annually. “This project shows our students, faculty and staff that solar power is one option as we all seek to make a greater contribution to solving the climate-warming issue,” he said.

“The Catholic University of America and Washington Gas Energy Systems are setting an example all colleges and universities should follow for the valuable role they serve in educating — and demonstrating — to the next generation of leaders throughout society how we all need to think and act more sustainably,” said Tony Clifford, chief executive officer of Standard Solar.

“Universities are uniquely positioned to deploy solar electric systems similar to Catholic’s,” Clifford added. “And they can do so with capital provided not by their operating budgets or endowments, but by investors who, like Washington Gas Energy Systems, purchase and own the panel systems and benefit from available tax incentives.”


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