A nearly two-year-long solar panel project on Winchester Medical Center’s campus is expected to be finished next month.
Once finished, it will be one of the largest solar power systems at any Virginia hospital, said Mark Baker, vice president of facilities management and safety for WMC’s parent company, Valley Health.
The solar project should save an estimated $3.25 million in electric utility bills over the next 30 years.
“There are three pieces to the project, two of which are already complete,” Baker said recently.
The first two sections — a roof-mounted system on Valley Health’s diagnostic center and another system on the roof of the cancer center — were both completed last year, he said.
The first one has a capacity of 289.4 kilowatts and the second one 125.8 kilowatts, a Valley Health news release from early 2020 says. Combined with the final section (1.3 megawatts), the total grid of 4,635 solar panels will provide 1.7 megawatts of clean energy.
The final section, a ground-mounted system on the northwest side of the campus, should be completed in February, Baker said, depending on any issues outside of Valley Health’s control.
“We’re up against some weather challenges and parts availability because of COVID,” Baker said.
Though the solar panel grid can stand up to the weather, he said that enough snow will prevent the panels from generating solar power until it's cleared away.
Valley Health won’t be storing any solar energy, so they’ll use whatever power they have as they generate it, he said.
Most of the energy will be generated from March to October, Baker said, and the rest of the year, Valley Health will supplement with the energy it buys from Shenandoah Valley Electric Cooperative, which he said has been fantastic to work with.
“They are our primary source,” he said.
He expects the solar panels to provide about 20 to 25% of electrical power to the campus, Baker said.
“It certainly provides an element of resilience which might not currently exist, meaning we can generate our own power,” he said.
“It gives us some independence if you will.”
The solar panel grid is also expected to result in about $80,000 a year in energy cost savings.
Staunton-based company Secure Futures Solar agreed not to charge Valley Health for the installation of the grid. Instead, Secure Futures Solar planned to cover all costs to get the system up and running and will start billing Valley Health for services once the system begins operation and starts producing power.
Aside from sustainability and reliability, using solar energy helps Valley Health keep its costs down so it can provide more cost-effective health care, Baker said.
“Ultimately it benefits the environment and the patient.”