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Morning Notes

Republican Gubernatorial Candidate Stops by Dunn Loring — Glenn Youngkin, the Republican nominee for Virginia’s governor, announced his policy priorities yesterday (Monday) outside the construction company CJ Coakley Co. Inc. in Dunn Loring. The package includes $1.8 billion in one-time tax cuts, a pledge to create 400,000 new jobs, raises for school teachers, and the addition of 20 new charter schools. Opponent Terry McAuliffe called the plan “out of touch the state’s fiscal reality.” [The Washington Post]

Nonprofit to Open Office in Vienna Church — “A nonprofit focused on providing a day program for adults with disabilities is opening a new administrative office at The Church of the Good Shepherd in Vienna. The grand opening of the SPARC office will be held on Wednesday, Sept. 1 at the church, located at 2351 Hunter Mill Road.” [Patch]

Mosaic District Gym to Host Vaccine Clinic — “@fairfaxhealth will have a Pop-up COVID-19 Vax Clinic at nearby XSport Fitness (8190 Strawberry Lane) on Tuesday, 8/31 from 3PM-7PM. The 1st (or 2nd) dose Pfizer jab will be available to anyone ages 12+ for free. Walk-ins welcome, or make an appt” [City of Falls Church/Twitter]

Vienna Ben & Jerry’s Offers Free Ice Cream for Solar Art Contest — The Ben & Jerry’s in Vienna has partnered with Ipsun Solar on the solar panel company’s fourth Sunny Summer Art Contest, where kids can submit artwork inspired by the sun and the need to find solutions to climate change. All participants will get a coupon for a free ice cream cone from Ben & Jerry’s Vienna, and winners will get gift cards. [Ipsun Solar]

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Morning Notes

County Commits to Carbon Neutrality by 2040 — The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors pledged yesterday (Tuesday) to make county government operations carbon-neutral by 2040 as part of a newly adopted Operational Energy Strategy. The move follows up on a recommendation issued by the county’s Joint Environmental Task Force last fall. [Fairfax County Government]

Virginia Named Best State for Business — CNBC named Virginia the number-one state for business in the U.S. for the fifth time, making it the only one to ever top consecutive rankings. CNBC, which didn’t release rankings last year due to the pandemic, highlighted the Commonwealth for its ability to recruit and retain talent. [Fairfax County Economic Development Authority]

Northrop Grumman to Test Moon Outpost — “NASA has finalized a $935 million contract with Falls Church, Virginia-based Northrop Grumman for a moon outpost living quarters for astronauts as part of its Artemis program, which will eventually return humans to the surface of the moon…NASA is currently targeting November 2024 to launch the spacecraft on a SpaceX rocket.” [WTOP]

Park Street in Vienna Closed for Utility Work — “Park Street SE will be closed to SE-bound traffic between the traffic circle and Cherry Street SE for water utility work tomorrow, July 14, from 9 p.m. until 5 a.m. Thursday, July 15. One-directional NW-bound traffic on Park Street SE will be open.” [Town of Vienna/Twitter]

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Solar panels (via Minoru Karamatsu/Flickr)

Fairfax County is continuing its efforts to transition to renewable energy with the installation of solar panels on county government and public school buildings, but it will now do so with a different vendor.

The county ended its contract with the company Sigora Solar yesterday (July 1), about 18 months ahead of schedule.

Sigora Solar is one of three vendors awarded contracts to install, manage, and maintain solar energy infrastructure for county government and school buildings in December 2019, when Fairfax County announced what it said was the largest solar power purchase agreement initiative by a Virginia locality to date.

The original contracts with Sigora, Sun Tribe Solar, and Ipsun Power were set to run through Dec. 31, 2022.

However, the county amended its contract with Sigora on June 10 to state that it would be “terminated for convenience” effective July 1. Sigora was designated as the primary contractor for roof-mounted solar panel projects.

Moving forward, the county will now work with Sun Tribe Solar, the secondary contractor for roof-mounted panels and the primary contractor for carport or canopy-mounted panels.

“Under the terms of the agreement, the county leases space on its buildings for the companies to install solar panels that those vendors will own, and the county buys the energy generated by the panels at a fixed price,” Brian Worthy, a public information officer with Fairfax County’s Office of Public Affairs, said.

“However, these companies have the right to decide whether or not to install panels at any buildings identified by the county,” Worthy said. “During the past year and a half, the county selected 30 buildings for solar panels, and we are eager to move forward with these projects.”

The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors has approved leasing necessary roof space at two batches of county-owned properties so far. The first round of eight sites came on Oct. 20, 2020, and another 22 sites were added on March 9.

The sites approved for solar panel installations in the Tysons area are:

  • McLean Government Center and Police Station (1437 Balls Hill Road, McLean)
  • Wolf Trap Fire Station #42 (1315 Beulah Road, Vienna)
  • McLean Community Center (1234 Ingleside Avenue, McLean)
  • Thomas Jefferson Library (7415 Arlington Blvd., Falls Church)
  • Providence Community Center (3001 Vaden Drive, Fairfax)
  • Merrifield Center and Kerrifield Center Garage (8221 Willow Oaks Corporate Drive, Fairfax)

Under the solar power purchase agreements, the installed solar panels will be owned, operated and maintained by the contracted vendors, rather than the county. The county will simply purchase electricity produced by these panels over time.

When the contracts were announced in 2019, the county estimated that the initiative could potentially yield over $60 million in electricity cost avoidance over the terms of the contracts. Additionally, it was projected that approximately 1.73 million megawatt hours of renewable energy could be generated at the county’s facilities.

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An end to the nation’s gasoline supply anxieties is within sight, but not before fears of a shortage fueled a panic-buying frenzy throughout Virginia, including in Fairfax County.

The Colonial Pipeline Company announced yesterday afternoon (Wednesday) that it has restarted operations and is now in the process of delivering gas to individual markets.

“Following this restart, it will take several days for the product delivery supply chain to return to normal,” the company said in an update at 5:11 p.m.

A major gas and jet fuel source for the southern United States and much of the East Coast, the Colonial Pipeline shut down on Saturday (May 8) in response to a ransomware attack perpetrated by a criminal organization called DarkSide that’s likely based out of Eastern Europe.

On Tuesday, Gov. Ralph Northam declared a state of emergency in anticipation of disruptions to the supply chain that supports many Virginia retailers.

“This emergency declaration will help the Commonwealth prepare for any potential supply shortages and ensure Virginia motorists have access to fuel as we respond to this evolving situation,” Northam said.

Within 24 hours, the travel app company GasBuddy calculated that 44% of gas stations in Virginia were out of gas, the highest percentage of any impacted state. That rate has now climbed to 55%, though the Commonwealth has been surpassed by North Carolina, where 71% of stations are reportedly running on empty, as of 9 a.m. today.

Fairfax County was not exempt from the fuel outages or the panic-buying that contributed to depleted gasoline supplies, as social media filled up with reports of stations running out of gas.

Drivers continually passed through an Exxon station at the corner of Maple Avenue and Branch Road in Vienna yesterday afternoon, only to be disappointed by the sight of “out of gas” signs posted on all of its pumps.

The owner told Tysons Reporter that the station had been out of gas since Tuesday, but they hoped more supplies would come within the next day.

The Exxon station at Hunter Woods Plaza in Reston was cut off from traffic by yellow caution tape as of 2:10 p.m. on Wednesday, according to local writer Addison Del Mastro, who added that the Exxon at the Fox Mill Shopping Center in Herndon was also out.

Readers told Reston Now, Tysons Reporter’s affiliate site, that Sunoco stations in the North Point Village Center and on South Lakes Drive near Twin Branches Road had also run out of fuel.

Stations that did have gas had either very long lines or were saving it for emergency vehicle use only.

The Mobil station on Maple Avenue and Park Street in Vienna had been crowded all day, a worker told Tysons Reporter around 5 p.m. yesterday. At that time, drivers pulled up to each pump as soon as the vehicle ahead of them finished filling up, and lines extended into the streets at both entrances to the station.

Meanwhile, local officials and agencies urged folks not to panic, horde gasoline, or to put gas in plastic bags, emphasizing that the shortages were expected to be temporary.

Fairfax County said that it did not anticipate any disruptions to government operations or services as a result of the pipeline shutdown.

“The county maintains its own fuel supply, which is distributed through 53 fueling sites, and receives regular deliveries,” the county said. “County operation plans take into account the possibility of temporary fuel shortages and price increases.”

Angela Woolsey contributed to this report.

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Monday Morning Notes

Public Hearings on Metro Budget Begin Today — The Metro Board of Directors is holding virtual public hearings this week on the transit agency’s proposed FY 2022 budget, which could significantly reduce rail service and close 22 stations, including the McLean station. The first meeting starts at 11 a.m. today, and the hearing scheduled for 6 p.m. on Wednesday (March 10) will focus on changes in Virginia. [WMATA]

Police Report More Commercial Burglaries in Tysons Area — Between Feb. 27 and March 4, Fairfax County police responded to burglaries at Sunoco (8030 Lee Highway), Grand Mart (6326 Arlington Blvd.), Ba Le Bakery (2822 Graham Rd.), Exxon (2081 Chain Bridge Rd.), and Macy’s (8000 Tysons Corner Center). [Fairfax County Police Department]

Inova and UVA Open New Medical Campus in Fairfax — The University of Virginia School of Medicine welcomed its first class of 36 medical students to a new campus developed in partnership with Inova Health Systems. Students will primarily train on the Inova Fairfax Medical Campus in Falls Church, but they will have opportunities to work across the nonprofit healthcare system’s facilities. [Inside NoVA]

School Board Votes to Advance Solar Panel Program — The Fairfax County School Board voted unanimously to move forward with a program to install solar panels on school buildings in an effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and electricity costs. Discussions are currently underway for projects at three schools, but Fairfax County’s original request for proposals included 87 sites. [Fairfax County Public Schools]

Deadline Approaching for McLean Community Center Governing Board Candidates — Petitions to become a candidate for a seat on MCC’s governing board must be submitted by 5 p.m. this Friday (March 12). There are three open seats on the board for adults and two for youth. [McLean Community Center/Twitter]

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As Fairfax County moves to expand its use of renewable energy, the Board of Supervisors is looking for feedback on the next round of county facilities being considered for solar panel installations.

The board will hold a public hearing on Tuesday (March 9) to determine whether the county should lease roof space at 22 county-owned properties to the energy company Sigora Solar, which would be responsible for installing, operating, and maintaining solar photovoltaic panels at the sites.

Sites under consideration in the Tysons area include:

  • McLean Government Center and Police Station (1437 Balls Hill Road)
  • Wolf Trap Fire Station #42 (1315 Beulah Road)
  • McLean Community Center (1234 Ingleside Avenue)
  • Thomas Jefferson Library (7415 Arlington Boulevard)
  • Merrifield Center and Kerrifield Center Garage (8221 Willow Oaks Corporate Drive)

This is the second set of properties that county officials have proposed as possible locations for solar panels. The county previously approved leases for roof space at eight sites, including the Providence Community Center, in October.

In an effort to pivot to renewable energy as a means of reducing greenhouse gas emissions, Fairfax County announced in December 2019 that it had awarded contracts to multiple solar power companies in what was the “largest solar power purchase agreement initiative by a local municipality in Virginia” at that time, according to the Fairfax County Office of Environmental and Energy Coordination.

In addition to Sigora Solar, the county has contracted with the providers BrightSuite — a subsidiary of Dominion Energy — and Ipsun Solar for the initiative, which could also include Fairfax County Public Schools facilities.

In the board package for Tuesday’s meeting, county staff say there is no expected net cost from the solar panels. Sigora Solar has offered a fixed rate of $0.069 per kilowatt per hour (kWh) on a 25-year contract term. The county will save $0.016 per kWh compared to current electric costs which will help pay off the costs of installation and upkeep to Sigora Solar.

The public hearing is expected to start around 4 p.m. Like the rest of the Board of Supervisors meeting, it will be available to watch via the county’s cable TV channel and online live stream, and live audio can be accessed by calling 703-324-5300.

Image via Flickr/Minoru Karamatsu

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What would it take for you to reduce your carbon footprint?

That’s the question Fairfax County is posing as it enters the public engagement portion of its Community Energy and Climate Action Plan (CECAP) initiative, which will establish goals and strategies for reducing greenhouse gas emissions and mitigating the impact of climate change.

Launched in early 2020, the CECAP process is being led by the Fairfax County Office of Environmental and Energy Coordination (OEEC) with support from the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments and the Fairfax-based consulting firm ICF.

The county previously sought public input on the plan in August and September, when a CECAP Task Force started developing draft mitigation goals.

In addition to holding two public meetings last week, one focused on energy and another on transportation, waste, and development, the county is looking to gather more public feedback through a trio of short surveys.

“We want to make sure that we expand our reach and get information from as many county residents and business owners as we can,” ICF Director of Human Capital Michelle Heelan said when facilitating the energy community meeting on Feb. 23.

One survey gauges respondents’ interest in undertaking projects to make their home more energy-efficient and sustainable, like installing solar panels and replacing light bulbs and HVAC systems. Another deals with transportation and development, asking questions about public transit, electric vehicles, and mixed-use development.

There is also a more open-ended survey for people to share general comments on the CECAP initiative.

“In Fairfax County, energy use and transportation are the two greatest sources of greenhouse gas emissions,” the OEEC says. “The CECAP will address both issue areas, and with your input, we can ensure that the final plan reflects the needs of everyone in our community as we work to reduce our collective carbon footprint.”

The surveys are currently available in English, Spanish, Korean, and Vietnamese. They will be open until 11:59 p.m. on Mar. 14.

ICF will draft a final report with input from a CECAP Working Group and the community for the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors to adopt this summer, according to OEEC Senior Community Specialist Maya Dhavale.

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Final preparations are underway in the City of Falls Church for a pilot program to replace the city’s street lights with more energy-efficient LED bulbs.

The Falls Church Planning Commission is scheduled to provide feedback on proposed designs for the new street lights during its meeting tonight (Wednesday).

The pilot will proceed the rollout of a city-wide LED street light replacement program “to ensure that any unintended consequences will be mitigated,” according to a staff report that will be presented to the planning commission.

Falls Church initiated plans to convert over 1,000 street lights to LED last summer when the city added a “Streetlights and Sidewalks” program to its Fiscal Year 2021-2026 Capital Improvements Program (CIP). The program stems from a regional partnership with Dominion Energy, which has also committed to converting the street lights that it owns in Fairfax County to LED.

According to Falls Church staff, LED lights last five times longer and consume 75% less energy than the mercury vapor and high pressure sodium fixtures that are currently being used.

An energy savings summary prepared by a consultant indicates that converting street lights to LED will cost $152,639 — an average of $150 per light — but it will save the city $3,793 in monthly energy costs. The city would also reduce its energy usage by 40,270 kilowatts per month and its annual carbon emissions by 393,262 pounds.

“Energy and maintenance cost savings allow for payback periods of as little as four years for a basic fixture, or 12 years for a premium fixture,” Falls Church City Public Works Director Zak Bradley said in a memo. “The lighting can also offer improved visibility for public safety, enhancing walkability and bikeability in the City.”

The pilot program will focus on a small portion of the city designated by staff. Affected residents will receive letters notifying them that they can report any negative impacts resulting from the new LED lights immediately, though the city is not accepting public input on the aesthetics and design of the lights.

The pilot could start as soon as this month and will last one month before Falls Church starts expanding the LED street light conversion to the whole city.

Photo via Google Maps

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Update on 10/28/2020 — This article has been corrected to clarify that the approved leases are only for necessary roof space, not entire facilities, and to note that Fairfax County is working with three contractors on its solar PPA initiative, not just Sigora Solar. The article also previously stated that the county will not bear any costs for the solar panels, but a county spokesperson says it would be more accurate to say the county will not bear upfront costs to design, permit, and construct the panels. 

Fairfax County inched closer to transitioning to renewable energy yesterday (Tuesday) when the Board of Supervisors authorized staff to lease roof space at the Providence Community Center and seven other county government-owned facilities so they can be outfitted with solar panels.

Providence Community Center will have rooftop solar photovoltaic panels installed on its main building at 3001 Vaden Drive, which operates as a government center for Providence District as well as a community meeting facility.

The other facilities that the county board approved to be leased to Sigora Solar following a brief public hearing are:

  • The Herrity Building (12055 Government Center Parkway, Fairfax)
  • The Pennino Building (12011 Government Center Parkway, Fairfax)
  • The North County Government Center (1801 Cameron Glen Dr., Reston)
  • Reston Community Center (2310 Colts Neck Road, Reston)
  • Springfield Warehouse (6800 Industrial Road, Springfield)
  • Noman M. Cole Pollution Control Plant lab building (9399 Richmond Highway, Lorton)
  • I-66 Transfer Station, workers’ facility building, and truck wash building (4500 West Ox Road, Fairfax)

The eight facilities are among the first locations approved for solar panels as part of Fairfax County’s extensive solar power purchase agreement initiative, which was announced on Dec. 10 as the largest by a Virginia municipality at that point. Contracts were awarded to Sigora SolarSun Tribe Solar, and Ipsun Solar.

The three solar providers will design, permit, install, and operate rooftop solar panels at all facilities participating in the program, which also includes facilities owned by Fairfax County Public Schools, Fairfax County Park Authority, and Fairfax County Redevelopment and Housing Authority.

Under the PPA, Fairfax County will not bear any upfront costs for the design, permitting, or construction of the solar panels, Fairfax County Office of Environmental and Energy Coordination director Kambiz Agazi says.

Instead, the county will purchase on-site electricity from the solar providers.

The solar PPA is expected to help Fairfax County reduce its greenhouse gas emissions and its electricity costs, though county staff could not yet provide specific numbers for how much the installation of solar will reduce emissions or how much money the county is expected to save.

“We will have an approximation as soon as we have a permitted design,” Agazi said. “We hope to have that in the next three to four months.”

The eight facilities that were the subject of yesterday’s public hearing are among 113 possible projects in the first phase of Fairfax County’s PPA. A request for proposals issued by the county in 2019 listed a total of 247 facilities across the initiative’s two planned phases.

County staff say they will return to the Board of Supervisors in the future to get approval to lease the 18 other county government-owned facilities in the first phase of the PPA.

Image via Flickr/Minoru Karamatsu

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With the risk of solar installations delaying or stopping altogether, Fairfax County is pushing politicians in Richmond to enact legislation that would lift renewable energy restrictions.

Yesterday, the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors voted in favor of supporting Braddock District Supervisor James Walkinshaw ‘s proposal to back several bills introduced during the 2020 General Assembly that would promote a transition to a low-carbon economy

The bills include:

  • HB 572 introduced by Del. Mark Keam (D-35th)
  • HB 912 introduced by Del. Marcus Simon (D-53rd)
  • HB 1184 introduce by Del. Alfonso Lopez (D-49th)
  • SB 710 (known as Solar Freedom Bill) introduced by State Sen. Jennifer McClellan (D-9th)

“These bills remove statutory barriers to distributed solar electricity generation thereby allowing local government along with Virginia residents and businesses to invest in and benefit from on-site solar generation,” Walkinshaw said.

Fairfax County is facing statutory barriers as it looks to expand its use of solar energy, Walkinshaw said.

“Fairfax County and other non-residential customers are essentially unable to use purchase power agreements due to statutory barriers including a power purchase agreement pilot program limit of 50 megawatts in the service area of Dominion Energy Virginia,” he said.

If the legislation does not pass, Fairfax County won’t be able to proceed with on-site solar installations that would total more than 40 megawatts of electricity, he said.

“I think the key message to the General Assembly is that our projects are ready to go,” Walkinshaw said. “If this legislation doesn’t succeed this year, they will stop.”

Providence District Supervisor Dalia Palchik and other board members shared support for Walkinshaw’s proposal.

“Over the past several years, I’ve had conversations with people who do this energy work nationally or internationally, and to continually here from them that Virginia is one of — if not the most — challenging place to get any of this done, I think it’s time to turn that corner,” Palchik said.

Chairman Jeff McKay said it was “frustrating” for advocates when similar legislation failed in the General Assembly last year.

“This is an issue really critical to us here,” he said.

The board voted 9-0, with Springfield District Supervisor Pat Herrity absent, to send the letter to the General Assembly delegation and Gov. Ralph Northam.

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