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APS to get some cash back due to energy-efficient school

Discovery Elementary School has an array of high-tech, high-efficiency features. (Photo by Deb Kolt)

Arlington School officials are hoping to use a statewide energy pilot program to get back some cash from excess power generated at Discovery Elementary School.

Legislation patroned by Del. Rip Sullivan (D-48th) in the 2018 session directs Dominion Energy to permit schools that generate more energy from on-site wind- or solar-powered sources to sell the power back to the utility. Currently, the excess power goes back to the electrical grid, but school systems are not reimbursed.

“It’s a great opportunity,” said Cathy Lin, the Arlington school system’s energy manager, who estimates that – based on usage data compiled over the past year – Arlington could find itself with $9,000 in annual reimbursement if it is selected for the pilot program.

Under the legislation, the funds could either be taken by a school system in cash, or applied to offset some of the cost of operating other facilities.

Discovery Elementary opened at the start of the 2015-16 season as Virginia’s first “zero energy” school building as certified by the International Living Future Institute and New Buildings Institute. Designed by VMDO Architects, it currently is one of only four schools nationally (and the largest building of any type) to receive the certification.

The design features helped to produce a surplus of 100,000 kWh of electricity in its first full year of operation, equivalent to the power consumed by 7.5 average Virginia homes.

So far, the school’s efficiency is outperforming expectations, Lin said. She credited John Chadwick, the school system’s facilities director, for suggesting the idea that was formalized in Sullivan’s bill.

The legislation was supported by the school system and by Dominion, and passed on votes of 99-0 in the House of Delegates and 40-0 in the state Senate.

“We supported [the measure] and have been in contact with the Discovery School. In fact, we are going on a tour later this month to learn more about their goals so we can develop a program together,” said Katharine Bond, Dominion Energy’s senior public policy director for state and local affairs.

The legislation, which was signed by Gov. Northam in March, gives the state Corporation Commission until Dec. 1 to set up the guidelines for administering the  the pilot program. It is slated to run for six years.