Westmoreland County Public Schools in Virginia and Sun Tribe, a Charlottesville-based solar company, announced that their Cople Elementary School solar array was awarded the Commonwealth’s first Gold Certified Pollinator Smart Project label. The Virginia Pollinator-Smart Program — led by the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) and the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR) — allows solar projects to be judged under a rigorous and industry-leading set of guidelines for pollinator-friendliness, with Gold Certification as the highest possible designation. Pollinator-friendly solar sites support birds, butterflies and other wildlife that call Virginia home.
The Virginia Pollinator-Smart Program, part of Gov. Ralph Northam’s initiative to encourage pollinator-smart solar development in the commonwealth, was developed with input from national experts, industry leaders and state agency environmental managers who are all committed to a rigorous, science-based process.
“There’s no question that solar helps saves money for school districts throughout Virginia, but we thought it was important to show that you can use solar to support your budget while also being a leader in environmental innovation,” said Devin Welch, CEO of Sun Tribe Solar. “From Day 1, Dr. Perry and his team have shown a real dedication to finding ways to bring solar into the classroom, and we’re thrilled to have worked with Westmoreland County Public Schools on this groundbreaking project.”
“Onsite solar has opened a whole new avenue of learning for students, educators, staff and community members in Westmoreland County, and we’re proud that it will also provide a chance for the next generation of leaders to learn about Virginia’s environment right in their own backyard,” said Michael Perry, Superintendent of Westmoreland County Public Schools. “Sun Tribe has been an engaged, collaborative partner to our school system, and we’re excited to continue working with them to set a national example for what’s possible when we put our students first.”
The Virginia Pollinator-Smart Scorecard was developed in consultation with public- and private- sector experts, including Ernst Seeds — the largest native seed producer and supplier in the eastern United States which has been a national leader in pollinator partnerships, and Rob Davis of Fresh Energy, whose work on pollinator-friendly solar has been featured in trainings by the U.S. Department of the Interior’s National Conservation Training Center, the U.S. Department of Energy, and others. Davis will be highlighting the Cople Elementary School project as a national example during a presentation at the 31st Annual Environment Virginia Symposium, held from March 31 to April 2, 2020, at the Virginia Military Institute in Lexington, Virginia.
“Virginia’s leadership in developing a pollinator-smart solar program, and this first project at Cople Elementary School, demonstrates to municipalities, corporations, school districts, and other energy buyers should ask for clean energy with additional environmental benefits,” said Rob Davis, director of the Center for Pollinators in Energy at nonprofit Fresh Energy.
“Ernst Pollinator Services is proud of the work with Sun Tribe at Cople Elementary School on Virginia’s first pollinator-friendly solar array,” said Robin Ernst, CEO of Ernst Pollinator Service. “The flowering habitat under and around the solar panels shows students that we can both transition to clean energy and create landscapes that sustain the butterflies, birds, and wildlife that inspire wonder and peace.”
The ground-mounted solar system at Cople Elementary School meets 100% of the school’s energy needs and will save Westmoreland County Public Schools an estimated $3.6 million in energy costs. The height of the system’s 2,100 panels will allow native, pollinator-friendly species to be planted under the array, while it was also designed to consider other factors (detailed in the scorecard) including seed mix, grass diversity, educational collaboration opportunities and vegetation management plans.
News item from Sun Tribe