American University, George Washington University and George Washington University Hospital plan to power a significant portion of their campuses using solar energy in the next 20 years, after signing a joint purchasing agreement that leaders said will help them to meet sustainability goals.

The three institutions will buy 52 megawatt of solar photovoltaic power — enough electricity to light up 8,200 homes a year — from Charlotte, N.C.-based Duke Energy Renewables at a fixed rate in the next two decades.

The project is expected to eliminate about 60,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide per year, or the equivalent of taking 12,500 cars off the road.

The solar power will meet 53 percent of the energy needs at both American and GWU, and 32 percent of the needs at George Washington University Hospital.

“We really did feel that this was something where we could put our money where our mouth is, in terms of our fundamental values as an institution,” said American University President Neil Kerwin.

The agreement calls for Duke Energy Renewables to install 243,000 solar panels at three sites in North Carolina, power from which will flow north into the Washington region’s electrical grid. The installation is scheduled to be complete in late 2015.

Officials at American and GWU began discussing the possibility of a joint energy agreement more than two years ago that would allow them to use their combined size to negotiate more favorable terms. The hospital, which is partially owned by GWU but largely operates as a separate entity, joined as well.

The agreement locks the institutions into a fixed price regardless of how energy prices fluctuate in the next two decades. But representatives from both American and GWU said they expect energy prices to rise, allowing them to ultimately save money over the course of the deal.

“The price is lower than what we’re paying for brown power,” said Doug Kudravetz, AU's interim chief financial officer. “We fully expect this to save money over the long term, as well as mitigate any future price uncertainties.”

Both Kerwin and Steven Knapp, GWU’s president, have signed the American College & University Presidents’ Climate Commitment, pledging to create plans that reduce their campuses’ carbon footprint while educating students about environmentalism.

Both schools offer academic programs and research centers focused on sustainability, and have implemented other plans to go green. AU, for example, has solar panels on 11 buildings that generate electricity and heat water.

“One of the slogans we’ve been using about sustainability is we want to ‘Practice what we teach.’ We have academic programs that focus on sustainability, but we want to make sure our operations reflect that same value,” Knapp said.

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