WINCHESTER — Winchester Medical Center will soon have one of the largest solar power systems of any hospital in Virginia, a move that will save an estimated $3.25 million in electric utility bills over the next 30 years.

WMC's corporate parent, Valley Health System, has signed an agreement with Staunton-based Secure Futures Solar to install and operate the solar power system, according to a Valley Health media release.

Installation of the solar panels is projected to begin in the second quarter of the year and be completed in the fourth quarter — an estimated 6-9 month period, Valley Health Public Relations Manager Carol Weare said.

Three separate solar arrays with a combined 4,635 solar panels will be installed. The largest array — a ground mount with a capacity of 1.3 megawatts — will be placed on the north end of the hospital's Amherst Street campus, adjacent to the Va. 37 northbound access ramp. Two smaller arrays will be installed on the rooftops of two nearby buildings: the WMC Diagnostic Center (289.4 kilowatts) and the Valley Health Cancer Center (125.8 kilowatts).

The arrays will provide 1.7 megawatts of clean energy, enough to power the equivalent of 289 homes, according to the release, and result in an estimated $80,000 a year in energy cost savings.

“This is an exciting project for Valley Health, consistent with our sustainability goals and our desire to be more resilient and reduce our carbon footprint,” Valley Health Vice President for Facilities Management and Safety Mark Baker stated in the release. “We see this as a clear win-win, harnessing the sun’s energy to supply about 20% to 25% of the electricity we need on our regional referral center’s campus.”

There is no cost to Valley Health for the installation, Weare said. Secure Futures Solar will cover all costs to get the system up and running and will begin billing Valley Health for services once the system goes into operation and starts producing power.

Anthony Smith, president and CEO of Secure Futures Solar, stated in the release that the solar energy system at WMC "will be one of the largest at a hospital or medical center in the state of Virginia.

According to the release, medical facilities are among the largest energy users in any community, as they are open 24 hours a day, occupied by hundreds or thousands of patients and employees, with equipment ranging from specialized ventilation systems to sterilization, laundry, and extensive lighting.

To provide backup power for critical equipment in case of a utility power outage, more medical centers around the country are augmenting or replacing traditional fossil-fuel generators with battery systems charged by on-site solar panels, the release stated. To offer Valley Health the option for solar-generated backup power in the future, the solar energy system will be "storage ready," and configured to connect to batteries that can be installed later.

— Contact Josh Janney at jjanney@winchesterstar.com

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