Agnes Scott College and Southface Energy Institute have released a case study detailing how Agnes Scott became the first non-profit to produce solar power through Georgia Power’s Advanced Solar Initiative (GPASI). This case study, funded by the Turner Foundation, offers specific insight into creative approaches to overcome the challenges non-profits face with regard to solar power projects.
Established in 1889, Agnes Scott is an independent liberal arts college for women located in Decatur, Georgia. In January 2015, Agnes Scott completed its fifth solar photovoltaic (PV) project. The college now has 238 kilowatts (kW) installed, which produce approximately 342,200 kilowatt hours (kWh) per year of solar electricity—enough clean, virtually carbon-free energy to power 31 average-sized U.S. homes each year. The arrays are part of the college’s plan to reduce its carbon footprint and become carbon neutral by 2037.
Through GPASI, approximately 750MW of solar capacity will be installed in Georgia by the end of 2016. Georgia Power will buy the solar electricity for a set price and term. In 2013, Agnes Scott was the only non-profit to successfully build a solar project in the first year of GPASI. Georgia Power received more applications than it could fund and instituted a lottery process to select projects. The college won approval through GPASI to build six arrays, four of which were completed as GPASI projects. Through 20-year, fixed-priced contracts, the solar power produced by the four GPASI arrays at Agnes Scott is inserted onto the electricity grid. The fifth array was financed by Agnes Scott and all the power is used onsite. The sixth array was not built due to the inability to find investor financing.
As a non-profit entity, Agnes Scott was unable to use federal tax incentives that shorten the payback period for taxable entities. This meant that if the college financed the solar projects itself, the effective cost of the solar energy would be far greater than a project financed by a taxable entity. Agnes Scott overcame this limitation by securing third-party investment partners that were eligible for the tax incentives.
Four of the five solar arrays were financed by a creative investor model that provides a low-risk investment opportunity at a reasonable rate of return (12-15%) with a payback period of five to six years. The investors paid the upfront costs of the solar generating equipment and installation, and leased the ground or roof space from the college. The investors capture the tax credits, equipment depreciation, and payments by Georgia Power for the energy produced. The college retains the resulting renewable energy credits (RECs), allowing for a reduction of the campus carbon footprint.
One solar array is owned by the college and the electricity it produces helps power the Bradley Observatory where it is located. This array was funded by the college’s Green Revolving Fund, a financing tool that returns utility savings to future efficiency projects. Most importantly, this array provides a hands-on laboratory where students can study physics, mathematics, and astronomy, while learning about the issues associated with climate change and solar energy production.
Agnes Scott’s 100-acre campus is graced by historic buildings and more than 2,000 trees. Old roofs and shade trees presented challenges to the deployment of the arrays. With this in mind, Inman Solar, an Atlanta-based solar company that specializes in medium- to large-scale solar projects, partnered with Agnes Scott to design and install arrays that minimize costs, optimize energy production, and blend with the beautiful campus.
This case study describes the unique design features of each array. Perhaps most interesting is the supporting structure for the West Parking solar array. It is a new design solution for PV support (or “racking”) for canopy-mounted arrays. Inman Solar, Quest Renewables, Georgia Tech Research Institute, and a private investment company partnered with Agnes Scott as the first full-scale demonstration site for this new racking system called the “QuadPod.”
This racking system was developed at Georgia Tech’s Carbon Neutral Energy Solutions Laboratory, where research funds from the U.S. Department of Energy are used to find solutions for reducing the cost of solar energy.
A Model for Non-profits
This case study can serve as a model for other non-profits seeking to take advantage of solar power. In addition to providing information on how to pursue similar projects, the case study also contains links to sample documents, such as the roof lease between the college and its solar investors.
For more information:
Solar Array Technical Specifications: