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May 2, 2017

Remington solar farm helps Dominion’s green plan

Photos by Lawrence Emerson

Covering the equivalent of 105 football fields, the solar farm under construction near Remington represents part of the state’s biggest utility’s effort to go green.

By October, the Fauquier project will generate enough electricity on sunny days to power 5,000 homes. The contractor has installed about 20 percent of 235,9820 solar panels along Lucky Hill Road, Patrick Herbert, Dominion Virginia Power’s project manager, said during a tour Monday afternoon.

In the grand scheme, the 20-megawatt facility represents a small portion of Dominion’s planned solar generating capacity.

The “carbon footprint” for a typical Dominion Virginia customer would shrink by as much as 25 percent over the next eight years under a plan the company presented Monday.

Added to reductions Dominion already has made, carbon emissions to meet the energy needs of a typical residential customer would fall by up to 46 percent between 2007 and 2027, according to the Richmond-based utility.

“The main drivers of these improvements are a significant drop in the subsidized cost of utility-scale universal solar power, the ability to support the variable output of solar and wind with highly efficient natural gas generation, and Virginia’s two nuclear power stations,” the company said in a press release. “This combination is expected to provide the lowest cost and best environmental performance while maintaining around-the-clock reliability.”

The company anticipates future national and state energy policy to include limitations on greenhouse gas emissions in some form. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency imposed sweeping reductions in power station carbon emissions in August 2015 through its Clean Power Plan. Despite court review and President Trump’s order for EPA to review the rule and to begin revising or rescinding it, the federal government remains under a legal requirement to address carbon as a regulated pollutant, Dominion representatives said.

Meanwhile, the Virginia State Air Pollution Control Board is considering a petition on carbon limitations. And, Gov. Terry McAuliffe named a taskforce to draft proposals to reduce carbon emission in Virginia, regardless of what happens with federal Clean Power Plan rules.

“For the first time, the subsidized costs of utility-scale universal solar power are expected to be low enough to make it a component of future generation additions at reasonable cost to our customers,” Dominion Generation Group CEO Paul Koonce said in announcing the company’s annual Integrated Resource Plan.

“This plan also highlights the vital roles of natural gas and nuclear generation. Gas-fired generation is clean, dependable and provides balance to the variable energy flows from solar and wind. Nuclear, with its 24/7 operations and no-carbon emissions, provides a solid base for a low-carbon future.

“We believe this balance of solar, natural gas and nuclear hits the sweet spot in terms of cost, environmental performance and reliability for our customers.”

Mr. Koonce noted Dominion already has made significant investments in solar and other renewables primarily through agreements with specific customers.

The company has lowered carbon emissions in recent years through a number of other measures, including conversion of four coal-fired power stations to natural gas or renewable biomass.

As it has in recent years, the company’s state-mandated 2017 plan includes potential alternatives based on different assumptions about future carbon regulations and other factors. This year’s report outlines eight alternatives.

At least 5,200 megawatts of new solar generation could be added under each alternative during the 25-year study period. Solar eventually could generate electricity at maximum output to serve more than 1.3 million homes when there is sufficient sunlight.

Together with the company’s North Anna and Surry nuclear facilities, more than a third of Dominion’s Virginia service territory could be powered with carbon-free electricity by 2032, the company said. Most of the rest of the demand would be served by low-emitting, low-cost natural gas, a critical partner to solar, given the variable nature of solar energy and the around-the-clock capability of natural gas.  

The Virginia General Assembly earlier this year adopted legislation that supports the company’s plans to seek a second federal relicensing for the reactors at North Anna and Surry. Surry’s reactors are licensed until 2032 and 2033, respectively, and North Anna’s are licensed until 2038, and 2040. Together, they have a generating capacity of 3,349 megawatts.

“Widespread solar use – both utility-scale universal solar and private systems – will require a modern energy grid, upgraded from the one-directional grid system that has worked so well to deliver power to generations of customers,” said Robert M. Blue, president and CEO of Dominion Virginia Power. “When the variable nature of solar becomes a major factor on the grid, it must become a flexible, two-way network, so we can deliver energy seamlessly to everyone. Having a robust energy grid is absolutely vital and will become even more important in the future.”

Near Remington, work on the nine-month construction project started in February.

It has gone according plan — except for some storm damage April 6, Mr. Hebert said. The violent storm, which produced three tornadoes in Fauquier, damaged about 60 of the solar panels.

“It hit us at a vulnerable time,” with bracing incomplete under the damaged panels, he said.

Characterizing the damage as minor, Mr. Herbert said it would not affect the construction schedule.

The $47-million project will be complete before September and after testing and will start providing electricity in October.

About 2.6 miles of fencing encloses the 125-acre solar farm.
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Jim Griffin · May 3, 2017 at 10:28 am
It is interesting to watch Dominion innovate and experiment with alternative sources of energy here in our backyard. This project generates learning, experience, electricity, jobs and tax revenue. As an agricultural community, we benefit more than most and have special incentive to preserve the natural resources upon which we rely.
BJ · May 2, 2017 at 8:27 pm
Talk about a carbon footprint, A recent scientific discovery has drastically changed our view of the global carbon cycle and identified a new significant risk. Researchers have discovered a giant lake or reservoir made up of molten carbon sitting below the western US.

The molten carbon (primarily in the form of carbonate) reservoir could drastically and immediately change the global climate for over a decade if it were to be released. Thankfully there is little risk in the near future of this happening. The carbon sits 217 miles beneath the surface of the Earth in the upper mantle and has no immediate pathway to the surface. In total the lake covers approximately 700,000 square miles, approximately the size of Mexico. This has redefined how much carbon scientists believe sits locked away in the Earth's mantle and its interaction with surface and atmospheric carbon.
Observer · May 2, 2017 at 8:00 pm
Who gives a flying fig how much pollution has to happen in China to be able to generate "clear" energy in Virginia. And yes, the carbon footprint my decrease but the cost increase will be paid by customers. Eventually the company will have to keep hot coal backup power plants, just like Germany.
Going solar makes zero economicsl sense, its only for clueless greenies to feel better.
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