On April 9, 2019, the Spotsylvania County Board of Supervisors approved a permit to begin construction on a 500 megawatt solar array managed by Sustainable Power Group (sPower) in Spotsylvania County, Virginia. A roughly $615 million project, sPower’s solar array will cover almost 6,300 acres of Spotsylvania County and is set to be the largest such project east of the Rocky Mountains (Shenk, 2019). Alongside big players such as Microsoft and Etsy, the University of Richmond also has a stake in the project. 20 MW of the Spotsylvania solar array will be designated for the University of Richmond and is estimated to match 100% of the school’s electricity needs once completed (Andrejewski, 2019a). Currently, the University of Richmond purchases all of its electricity from Dominion Energy, which derives its energy from natural gas, coal, nuclear, oil, and renewable sources (Dominion Energy, 2019). Going forward with the sPower solar project will allow the university to offset its majority nonrenewable-fueled electricity provided by Dominion and make a positive statement in the community as a leader in sustainability.

This study evaluates natural gas as an alternative energy source for the University of Richmond as it relates to the now-approved sPower solar project in Spotsylvania County and the University's long-term sustainability goals. I specifically analyze if it is more beneficial for the University to focus on natural gas or other renewable energies such as solar power. I begin my report by briefly outlining the theoretical framework I use to analyze my research and come to my conclusion. I then introduce the fundamentals of natural gas, the science behind it, and natural gas production and consumption in Virginia. My next section highlights the benefits of natural gas to the environment and economy. I then contrast this section by discussing the drawbacks of natural gas production and operations. Finally, I examine the University of Richmond’s current energy profile and determine whether or not natural gas is a viable and socially responsible energy for the University to pursue in light of the approved sPower solar project and the school’s long-term sustainability goals.

Paper prepared for the Environmental Studies Senior Seminar.

Faculty Advisor: Dr. David Kitchen

Document Type

Unpublished Paper

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