Darden brings U.Va. closer to carbon neutrality

Hollyfield Solar Facility partnership could help with making the University carbon neutral

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This past September, the Darden School of Business and Dominion Energy launched a green energy partnership at the Hollyfield Solar facility — a 160-acre field of solar panels in King William County, Va. After reaching an agreement with Dominion last year, the University and Darden will purchase all generated energy from the U.Va. Hollyfield Solar facility, which is owned and operated by Dominion, for the next 25 years. 

Once the University set a goal to become carbon neutral by 2035, a series of sustainability projects commenced — and Darden is playing a role in leading the way. A key party in the agreement with Dominion, Darden will receive 25 percent of the 17 megawatts of alternating current generated by the U.Va. Hollyfield Solar facility, making its dreams of carbon neutrality — a state in which the net amount of carbon dioxide emissions is zero — a reality. 

“We have long had a goal at Darden to become carbon neutral, but always knew the last mile to that was something like the Hollyfield project,” said Mike Lenox, senior associate dean and chief strategy officer at Darden. “When we got wind of the project, we were really eager to get involved.”

Lenox believes the project may do more than help save the planet — it may also save the University money. 

“This is a classic case of a win-win, and may very well may save the University money — depending on where the price of energy goes in these next years,” Lenox said. “These types of deals are becoming more attractive in the world of business.” 

Colette Sheehy, senior vice president for operations at the University, knows from experience that such an effective partnership has not come without significant planning and preparation. 

“Getting the partnership was complicated,” Sheehy said. “We began a conversation about purchasing the power that comes off of the [Hollyfield Solar facility] field, but first had to do a lot of calculations about how we pay for power and that sort of thing.”

The impact of the facility may not be known for a while, and depending on what that impact is, the University may choose to pursue other technology.

“They only started operations at the field this year,” Sheehy said. “We don’t even have full year’s worth of data. After the 25-year agreement is up, we’ll reevaluate the technology. By then, there could be any number of ways to control our energy use that we could use instead.” 

Nonetheless, Sheehy believes in the project’s commitment to sustainability.

“The partnership clearly demonstrates the University’s commitment to attaining the goal of carbon neutrality, and provides a way of quickly getting there.” 

To Lenox, the project exemplifies Darden’s mission of teaching not just the skills of business, but also how to employ those skills ethically. 

“When we initially made the pledge for carbon neutrality, we talked about how we live and how we learn,” Lennox said. “Here at Darden, we study business ethics and the role of sustainability. If we are going to teach these things, we should be practicing them as well.” 

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