Huge Virginia solar farm scuttled because Virginia utilities aren’t interested

This could have been us.  Photo credit U.S. Department of Agriculture

This could have been us.
Photo credit U.S. Department of Agriculture

A solar array that would have more than doubled Virginia’s solar power will not be built after all, with the developer blaming Dominion Virginia Power and other utilities for their lack of interest in buying the output.

The Winchester Star reports that the 20-megawatt array—100,000 solar panels, capable of powering 20,000 homes—had been planned for 145 acres of agricultural land in Clarke County. A spokesman for the developer, OCI Solar Power, said the company allowed its land option to lapse “due to the lack of long-term solar procurement efforts by Dominion and other VA utilities.”

This shouldn’t surprise anyone. Virginia has done little to encourage our utilities to buy solar power, and so for the most part they haven’t. The state’s voluntary renewable energy goal is a sorry dishrag of a law. It can be—and is—met with old, out-of-state hydro plants, trash burning, and wood. And because our utilities have a state-sanctioned monopoly on power sales, customers who want solar power can’t go buy it from someone else.

But if it isn’t surprising for Virginia to lose a big solar opportunity due to utility intransigence, it is stupid. Virginia consumers would love to buy solar energy, local governments would love to have solar farms generating tax revenue, and local businesses would love to create solar jobs. A win-win-win opportunity is being wasted, at a time when lawmakers complain about how hard it is to reduce our carbon emissions.

Even Dominion says it wants utility-scale solar (eventually), but it wants to build its own so it can earn the fat return on equity guaranteed to it by Virginia law. (If the utility buys power from someone else, it can pass along the cost to customers, but it doesn’t earn a profit.)

Last year the General Assembly overwhelmingly passed a bill to support solar development, and then failed to fund it. Governor McAuliffe’s energy plan talks a good game on solar, but it’s toothless. We will continue to miss out on opportunities like this one until we have a law that requires Virginia utilities to buy solar, or lets consumers contract for it directly from any willing seller.

Or better yet, both.

14 thoughts on “Huge Virginia solar farm scuttled because Virginia utilities aren’t interested

  1. Yes, and tell us how! Is there any value to writing Kaine, Warner, McAuliffe? There is so much citizen support to this but it falls on deaf ears. I wonder if there is any county government angle, like counties that want a solar incentive but hit the Dominion brick wall too.

  2. Much as i dislike Dominion and its obvious, blatant strategy to strangle solar whenever possible, i wonder about using 145 acres of agricultural land for a solar farm. Why not use existing rooftops? A much better resource for solar, and a way to end community reliance on centralized, corporate-owned electricity generation that is vulnerable to disasters both natural and man-made. The use of brownfields for solar, as is being done in NJ and a few other places, makes more sense than agricultural lands, but nothing beats rooftop solar for community security.

    • Chris, we will need both. With 75% of residents unable to have their own rooftop solar, and with most buildings needing more energy than rooftop systems can provide, there is a need for utility-scale projects. Solar farms can also provide power much more cheaply due to the economies of scale.

      And it turns out that solar doesn’t have to displace all other farm uses. I was recently put on to some articles about solar’s compatibility with sheep farming. The sheep mow the grass between the rows of solar panels, eliminating herbicides and mechanical mowers, and in turn they appreciate the shade. (Of course you have to design the project with this in mind. Still, I like the elegance of the solution.)

  3. The most disgusting aspect of this to me is that the Dominion conglomerate has recently purchased solar generating facilities in CA and GA. The problem with incorporating renewable power generation in Virginia is that it is cheaper and has no continuing fuel (and ash disposal) costs.This is like a cost plus contract when rate increases are considered by the State Corporate Commission. The higher the cost Dominion can sell the SCC on, the higher the profit/rate of return Dominion gets. It’s just good business

  4. Anybody else see a disconnect here? Recent comment posted on this blog from Dominion Resources Executive Vice President and CFO Mark Gettrick: “We see a growing need in Virginia to install solar for native load compliance with carbon. So that’s what we’re doing . . . So watch where we go with solar. We like the technology, the cost continues to drop, and we see it as a cornerstone for future development in Virginia.”

    We know how disingenuous Dominion has been in the past. Is there any reason to believe in a Dominion crossover to the truth? Very bluntly, the bottom line is these people are liars and they will do and say ANYTHING that improves the company’s short-term profits. Happy shareholders make happy corporate executives.

    Question is, what are we going to do about it?

  5. Pingback: Huge Virginia solar farm scuttled because Virginia utilities aren’t interested | Preserve Montgomery County, VA

  6. Pingback: Huge Virginia solar farm scuttled - Rural Madison

  7. How does this jibe with Dominion’s press release two days ago: http://dom.mediaroom.com/index.php?s=26677&item=136972
    Dominion Virginia Power Planning Commonwealth of Virginia’s First Large-Scale Solar Project
    – Remington project will be a 20-megawatt facility on 125 acres in Fauquier County
    – Facility capable of generating enough electricity at peak capacity to power 5,000 homes
    – Dominion also seeking approval of a 2-megawatt Community Solar pilot

    • Good question. When Dominion builds its own facility it can charge ratepayers for the capital cost, and it is allowed to make a profit. If it buys power from someone else it can only pass through the cost, so it doesn’t make a profit. So the answer may be just that simple. I hope to learn more soon.

  8. Pingback: Virginia Minority Leader Saslaw Again Declares His Opposition to Ethics Reform | The Checks and Balances Project

  9. Thanks, this is very helpful. Any predictions about legislative changes to support greater solar adoption. Your blog indicates a great number of bills being introduced by lawmakers but can any of them reach daylight? No pun intended.

    All the best,

    Rob

  10. Pingback: Dominion makes a play for utility-scale solar, but Amazon steals the show | Power for the People VA

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