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Leading by Example: VA Funds Solar Energy Projects at Hospitals, Clinics, Cemeteries

The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) awards $78 million in contracts to build solar photovoltaic (PV) systems at VA facilities nationwide.

Just over a year ago, President Obama asked the Federal government to lead by example when he signed Executive Order 13514: Federal Leadership in Environmental, Energy, and Economic Performance.  This Order directs federal agencies to set aggressive sustainability goals, and to promote “green practices” more generally.  The Department of Veterans Affairs has responded enthusiastically to the President’s request.  Indeed, we have long been leading by example in the area of environmental sustainability.  For instance, as far back as 2005, when the Energy Policy Act ordered federal agencies to purchase 7.5 percent of their electricity from renewable sources by 2013, VA responded by setting its own target at 15 percent—double the mandated amount.  This increased use of renewable energy also helps VA to accomplish another aggressive goal we have recently set ourselves: reducing our greenhouse gas emissions by 30% by 2020.

This week brings more good news regarding VA’s leadership in environmental performance, and its commitment to renewable energy in particular.  On Monday, we proudly announced that we have awarded nearly $78 million in contracts to build solar photovoltaic (PV) systems at VA facilities nationwide.

By fall 2011, VA will have installed the solar PV systems at hospitals, clinics and national cemeteries in a dozen particularly sunny locations, from Florida to California.  In several cases, these systems will produce up to 100 percent of the facility’s annual electricity usage. 

VA conducted feasibility studies to determine the optimal locations for these on-site renewable energy project investments, ultimately selecting seven facilities in California (Los Angeles, San Diego, Dixon, Martinez, Menlo Park, Monterey, and Sepulveda), three in Florida (Miami, Viera, and Tampa), one in Salt Lake City, and one in Prescott, Arizona.  Together with our previously awarded solar PV projects (in Phoenix, Albuquerque, Tucson, Dublin (GA), San Juan (PR), Calverton (NY), Santa Nella (CA),  and Riverside (CA)), these contracts will help us meet our goal of 15 percent renewably-generated electricity consumption by 2013.

At the GreenGov symposium held on the campus of George Washington University earlier this month, Secretary of Energy Steven Chu and Chair of the White House Council on Environmental Quality Nancy Sutley announced plans to install solar panels and a solar hot water heater on the roof of the White House Residence.  The idea behind that initiative is to demonstrate that American solar technologies are available, reliable, and ready for installation in homes throughout the country—even the White House. 

I like to think of VA’s recent announcement in a similar vein.  For instance: as the operator of our nation’s single largest healthcare system, VA’s decision to install PV systems at our hospitals and clinics serves to demonstrate that healthcare facilities, no less than private homes, can benefit from these technologies today.  In this way, we join the President in leading by example.

As VA Secretary Eric Shinseki said recently, “With these investments in clean energy and other renewable energy projects for our medical centers, clinics, and cemeteries, we are marching forward with the President’s initiative to ‘green’ the Federal government.  The benefits of using solar power are significant, from our reduced utility bills to the quality of the air we breathe.  This initiative is good for Veterans and good for our environment.”

[UPDATE: For those wondering just how much energy projects like these solar PV installations really contribute, VA has just updated its figures regarding projects that help reduce our nation’s dependence on foreign oil.  And the figures are pretty compelling: VA projects in operation and under construction harnessing wind power and geothermal heat are estimated to contribute the equivalent of 12.4 million kilowatt-hours (kWh) annually for VA (roughly the amount of energy consumed by 1,200 American households).  Renewably-fueled combined heat and power projects will generate 45.3 million kWh annually, with one project already in operation and six new projects being installed.  And solar projects going in – including those described above – are projected to produce 50.6 million kWh annually, once completed.  All told, the total anticipated energy generation and savings from these and other VA energy efficiency and renewable energy projects installed or underway is equivalent to approximately 308 million kWh per year.  To put this in perspective, that is enough to fully power eight large VA medical centers, or nearly 30,000 American households! 

I’m also excited to announce the launch of our brand new ‘Greening VA’ website.  You can read more about VA’s renewable energy projects, and many other of our greening initiatives, at  Be sure to check back regularly for updates on other new and exciting ways in which VA is leading by example in the area of environmental sustainability.]