WV Wesleyan 530 kWDC/500 kWAC Ground-mount Solar Project
April 17, 2022
Nestled in the heart of West Virginia the Buckhannon River, named after the Chief of the Delaware Indians in the late 1700s, meanders through farmland and fields and takes a broad, sweeping turn as it passes through the town named after the river. The low-lying, flat land on the inside of this bend has been home to tanneries and other industrial buildings in the early years of the city’s development, and the railroad that bisects the area allowed access for the finished products to be shipped to markets in the east.
As the local industries ceased operations the area became available for post-war housing development, and the area was densely populated with single-family homes. Unfortunately, for the planners, this area is in the river’s flood plain, and as these homes age, they are not able to be repaired or replaced in their present location. Thus WV Wesleyan took the opportunity to acquire these homes over the years, raze them and use the areas for practice fields, ball fields, tennis courts, and other ancillary uses.
Pickering Energy has been working with Wesleyan for years, having developed solar projects on the roof of their Annie Merner Pfeiffer Library and a 60 kW solar installation on a carport structure adjacent to the Performing Arts Center, which also supports (4) electric vehicle charging stations. In 2019 discussions began about a ground-mount system that would offset a significant portion of the power used by the WV Wesleyan campus. As different siting options were considered, the use of the area in the flood plain was a natural fit—this area could not be used for newly constructed buildings, and the solar panels could be elevated outside of the flood elevations. In 2021 WVWC agreed to host a solar system that Pickering Energy Solutions would develop, own and operate and sell the produced power to WVWC on a Power Purchase Agreement.
Melink Solar and Geo from Cincinnati, Ohio was selected as the project EPC (Engineer, Procure and Construct contractor for the project). Coinciding with the development process, some imported solar panels had a 20% tariff applied to them, causing chaos to the domestic solar panel market, and requiring our team to re-plan the installation. We eventually settled on using bi-facial panels due to their availability. (Bi-facial panels have solar collection capabilities on both front and back surfaces of the panels and are able to harvest an additional 3-5% of the solar energy from reflected radiation from the ground and other surfaces on the backside of the panels.)
The USDA has supported this project with a REAP Grant to offset some of the cost of the construction project and a loan guarantee to help the local banks understand and accommodate the risk associated with this ‘newer’ energy production technology in the area.
The completed project uses 1328 Jinko 400W panels, providing 531 kW at 1500VDC to (4) Chint 125 kW string inverters. These inverters provide 600V output to a 750 kVA step-up transformer and then tie into the WV Wesleyan campus circuit at 12.47 kV. This system, across an average year, will provide about 10% of the annual use for the campus. The campus electrical service was fitted with a bi-directional meter so that, in the event the solar system produced more power than the campus required, the excess power is metered into the utility’s grid and the returned power is credited to the College.
This system will provide enough clean, renewable energy to power over 50 homes, and every year it will avoid the release of 623 Tons of CO2 into the atmosphere. That is equivalent to the annual emissions from 120 vehicles. This two-acre project will save the same amount of CO2 that would require the re-forestation of over 500 acres of Appalachian hardwood forest, almost a square mile of land. The final seeding and natural vegetation within the solar array field helps support local pollinators and provides opportunities for natural grasses to re-populate.
The design, surveying, and construction of this project provided jobs for almost 3 persons for a year (see below for our project team).
The system received Permission to Operate (PTO) on April 4, 2022. At the time of its installation, this was the largest solar system in WV installed in the First Energy/Mon Power system, so it got a lot of attention. The City of Buckhannon also expressed a real interest in the facility.
Special thanks to WV Wesleyan College for having the vision to keep the focus on the project and Vaughn Hartley for doing the heavy lifting and making sure that all of the little details of the installation were covered and went smoothly.
Also thanks to our team,
- Melink Solar and Geo, Cincinnati, Ohio; Project development support, modeling, and EPC
- DPC Contractors of Marietta, Ohio; Electrical and mechanical construction
- USDA; REAP grant and loan guarantee
- Community Bank of Parkersburg, WV; Construction and project financing
- Pickering Associates of Parkersburg, WV; Surveying and project layout.