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Staunton Based Solar Firm Powers Up Washington and Lee

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Solar panels are delivered to Washington and Lee Solar panels are delivered to Washington and Lee

The Shenandoah Valley is already home to Virginia's largest solar power system. But it's about to get one that's even larger, and a Staunton company is behind both of those cutting-edge power projects.

Over 1,500 solar panels will crank out 450 kilowatts of electricity from the rooftops at Washington and Lee University. The project aims to show how energy stewardship can make financial sense.

With the stroke of a pen, Washington and Lee University committed to a massive solar energy project, one that is billed as a commitment to the future.

"For any student graduating from a liberal arts college, you have to consider that broader context. When you go out into the world … what do you owe to others, and what do you owe to those in the future," said Washington and Lee President Kenneth Ruscio.

One array of solar panels will be installed on a new canopy on a campus parking garage. Another will cover most of the roof of Lewis Hall at Washington and Lee's Law School. Together they'll generate enough electricity to power 44 homes.

The project is designed, developed and financed by Staunton based Secure Futures.

"We own and operate it. And then we sell the electricity back to the customer, in this case, the university," explained Secure Futures CEO Tony Smith.

"We're in a position where we're able to invest now for payoffs in the future," said Ruscio.

Depending on electricity costs, that payoff may take between 10 and 20 years. But Washington and Lee is not the first school to make that long-term investment. Just last year, Secure Futures installed what will soon be Virginia's second-biggest solar power system, at Eastern Mennonite University in Harrisonburg.

"The project at Eastern Mennonite University really paved the way in Virginia and we had to overcome a lot of hurdles. And it was on stroke of that success that Washington and Lee decided to embark on this project," said Smith.

Secure Futures hopes to show that weaning ourselves from fossil fuels can make financial sense.  The company says its found success in renewable energy without much help from Richmond. 

Smith stated, "Virginia's one of the toughest in the country to make this scale of solar work, unlike other states that have higher electric rates, more incentives. We're essentially swimming in our own blue ocean right now in Virginia because no one else is crazy enough to do something like this."

Washington and Lee will throw the switch on the new system by December.