By Alison Johnson
Patients in the waiting room at Hampton Family Practice have a unique program to watch – a real-time display of the energy watts produced by the office’s 350-plus rooftop solar panels. Figures on a television screen dip if a cloud blocks the sun and rise once it drifts away.
The panels, added in the spring of 2020, have quickly turned into a valuable addition. Sunlight currently covers about half of the practice’s energy needs, trimming an average of $1,500 from its monthly electrical bills for a savings of roughly 50 percent.
Hampton Family Practice also received a 30 percent federal income tax credit in 2019. In 2020, that will be 24 percent based on a scheduled annual reduction of 6 percent. Office managers originally expected to recoup project installation costs in 10 years, but that estimate has dropped to 6½ years thanks to the energy tax credits, depreciation and grants.
“The financial incentives significantly reduce the cost of a system like this, and the savings start immediately,” says Parker R. Stokes, MD, a retired family physician and member of Hampton Family Practice Properties, the corporation that owns the building. “I’d like other practices to know that it just makes sense from a budgetary standpoint.”
As the environment becomes an increasing concern for physicians, patients and politicians alike, more medical facilities are finding both ethical and financial value in going solar.
The state also is encouraging green energy projects under the 2020 Virginia Clean Economy Act, which aims to have both Dominion Energy and Appalachian Power carbon-free by 2050. In November, Dominion announced plans to build three new solar plants, including one in Chesapeake and one in James City County.
Power companies must now pay penalties if they fail to meet targets on converting from fossil fuels to renewable energy. Entities that already have solar panels can sell solar energy credits – called Solar Renewable Energy Certificates – to help the companies comply and to speed the return on their solar project investment.
“Though the energy tax credit has been reduced this year and it may take longer to recover an investment in solar, I expect more and more practices to go the solar route,” notes John G. Corley III, President of Medical Management Consulting Group, Inc. “The panels are low-maintenance, and electric bills will continue to go up in the future.”
Individual practices can have a significant impact. Hampton Family Practice’s solar system, for example, will prevent an estimated 170 tons of carbon dioxide a year from being released into the atmosphere by not burning fossil fuel. That’s how much 2,500 trees would clear through photosynthesis, according to Dr. Stokes.
The office has linked a computer kiosk to its rooftop panels to create the waiting room display and is developing handouts on solar panels and energy conservation for patients to take home.
“Participating in green energy efforts is something we can all do,” Dr. Stokes says. “We also can help get patients thinking about what they can do as individuals. I believe this is part of our mission to stay on the leading edge of medical care and technology.”