HENRICO, Va. (WRIC) — When Henrico installed solar panel arrays on three county buildings from 2019 to 2021, the price tag was electrifying: $0.00.

The county avoided paying a dime for the project by partnering with a private solar development company, Sun Tribe Holdings, to install the panels at no cost. Then, the county buys the energy back at below the market rate, gaining “significant savings in the millions on energy costs.”

“We’ve had a partnership with Sun Tribe for many years, and we have to date completed six solar projects,” said Cari Tretina, chief of staff to the county manager.

Panels have already been installed at Libbie Mill Library, the Mental Health and Developmental Services East Center and the Public Safety Building. Panels are currently being installed on the new J.R. Tucker and Highland Springs High Schools.

“Everybody wins – including the earth,” Tretina said. “Henrico County tax payers do not pay for the solar panels to be installed, we do not have any maintenance obligation and we get a discounted price on our electric rate.”

All Gravy Now

While the county has already been enjoying the benefits of cheaper electricity, a recent board vote will enable the county to reap even more financial benefit.

The deal involves so-called Renewable Eneergy Certificates, or RECs. The certificates record the amount of renewable energy the county generated across its projects, and estimate how much will be generated over the lifetime of the panels.

The certificates aren’t just something nice to frame on the wall – they can be sold to companies that need to meet emission reduction goals, companies like Dominion Energy.

“We’re in a unique situation where our Virginia REC’s are very valuable,” said Carrie Webster, Henrico’s Energy Manager.

That’s because under the Virginia Clean Economy Act, passed in 2020, Dominion can only buy RECs generated in Virginia to help offset its carbon footprint. According to Webster, that’s made the market for Henrico’s REC’s especially hot.

The board voted at their meeting on April 12 to authorize the county manager to forge an agreement with Sun Tribe Holdings to sell the RECs on their behalf.

Paying for the Future

As the county manager noted, Henrico was one of the first counties in Virginia to take advantage of the market.

“So you’re saying Henrico is avant-garde?” joked Fairfield District Supervisor Frank Thornton.

While County Manager John Vithoulkas can now sign an agreement to sell the RECs, he isn’t required to immediately. He told the board members during a work session that he would consult with them before finalizing any sale.

At current market prices, “you’re looking at a net gain of $280,931,” Tretina said.

While the county has more solar projects planned, including panels to be installed on the Fairfield Area Library and County Parks and Rec office, supply chain issues have delayed those plans.

Tretina said the sale of the county’s RECs could help jump-start those projects, “What we want to be able to do is to use these credits to buy down the cost of future projects.”