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Dominion plans dive into solar, casts eye on sites
SoVaNow.com / August 21, 2014Virginia’s largest electric utility company is pledging to ramp up its reliance on solar power — two years after cancelling a commercial-scale pilot project in Halifax County that would have tapped the power of the sun to power hundreds of homes.
Dominion Virginia Power says it wants to add 220 megawatts of electrical generation to its portfolio over five years starting in 2017. The move into solar power would entail the construction of five 40-megawatt greenfield solar installations by 2021, as well as five other 20-megawatt “tagalong” solar farms at existing power stations.
One such site could be in Halifax County, say company officials, although Dominion is not yet prepared to make decisions on where to locate the facilities.
Dominion does have some history with solar power in Halifax County, however: It planned to build a 4-megawatt solar array in the county by 2012, before cancelling the project, which was tied to an industrial prospect that never materialized — a technology firm that claimed a breakthrough in battery technology.
The Virginia Tobacco Commission awarded a $4 million grant to support expansions by both companies, but the project fell through.
Dominion’s latest foray into solar, which must gain the approval of the State Corporation Commission, has the utility looking at Halifax — again.
“While we cannot provide details about any properties explored previously in Halifax County, that region of the state — among others as well — is certainly on our radar,” said David Botkins, spokesman for Richmond-based Dominion.
“The properties of a site that are most suited for large-scale solar development are largely flat and cleared, near existing electric transmission or distribution lines that have the capacity to bring the power to our customers, and most importantly, where the surrounding community wants this to happen.
“We think Halifax County is certainly a great option,” Boykins added.
He said it was “just too early” to say whether the utility would seek renewed support of the Tobacco Commission for a solar project in the commission’s service area of Southside and Southwest Virginia.
Matt Leonard, executive director of the Halifax County Industrial Development Authority, was unavailable for comment.
While Dominion ponders its next steps on solar energy, Halifax County sits next door to a growing sun power presence in Person County, N.C. The border county has two major solar installations, at a business park south of Roxboro and north in the county, just over the Virginia-North Carolina on U.S. 501.
That project, operated by Chapel Hill-based Strata Solar, was completed in the spring of this year. The 6.5 megawatt solar farm generates enough electricity to light 754 homes in Person County and has an operating life of 30 years.
Strata Solar says the project injected $250,000 in direct expenditures in Person County for wages, lodging and supplies. It also led to an increase in the property tax base of Person County of approximately $15 million, with no requirement for additional school, sewers roads, or other county services.
“We have built an emissions free facility that will offset thousands of tons of CO2 per year in a silent, practical manner,” the company notes on its website, http://www.stratasolar.com.
North Carolina is far ahead of Virginia in terms of solar generation, with an estimated 592 megawatts, ranking the state fourth in the nation.
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