Carilion New River Valley Medical Center unveils solar panels to fuel hospital energy needs

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CHRISTIANSBURG, Va. (WDBJ7) - The Carilion New River Valley Medical Center is harnessing the energy of the sun to save money and help the environment.

The company installed 4,000 solar panel tracking system in December. It's a project that has been in the works for two and a half years.

On Tuesday officials gathered for a “flipping of the switch” where they flipped a giant light switch instead of a traditional ribbon cutting.

Virginia Governor Ralph Northam stopped by for the unveiling of the technology.

"One of the things we are really trying to focus on in Virginia is promoting renewable energy, you know lessoning our carbon footprint," said Governor Northam.

Carilion leaders say the panels will save them $1.5 million dollars over 20 years and reduce their carbon footprint.

The system is expected to generate 17-percent of the hospital's energy each year.

Carilion Director of Operations Scott Blankenship says the panels work best on clear sunny days, but even without direct sunlight, they are working at 20-percent capacity.

"What this does is it helps how much power we utilize of the day of the year," he said.

Sheep will be used to maintain the field and eat the grass since mowers can't navigate around the panels, according to Blankenship.

"Solar sheep are an actual thing. A quick Youtube search will show you this is a trend throughout the country," said Blankenship.

The array is on farmland next to the hospital and will double as a sheep pasture and site for the collection of solar panels.

"The panel sits off of Lamb Circle, our sleep center where we count sheep is directly across, and we just solidified a deal this morning to sell sheep in the gift shop with sunglasses. We thought it was neat to tie it all together."

According to Carilion, the project provides $3.8 million in economic development to Southwest Virginia.