Why Is There So Little Solar Power in Virginia?

A new University of Richmond project bucks the statewide trend.



UPDATE: Dominion must have been reading my mind. On Jan. 20, they announced plans for a 20-megawatt solar power station in Fauquier County. It's about time but one wonders if this was the real reason Dominion rebuffed purchases from an independent, proposed solar power project in Clarke County.


Kudos to the University of Richmond for planning to build a 204-kilowatt solar array atop the Weinstein Center for Recreation and Wellness.

It should be enough to power one residence hall and help UR cut its carbon emissions by 30 percent by 2020 and be carbon free by the middle of the century.

If only Virginia had the same vision. It doesn’t.

The fact is that the state’s largest utility, Dominion Resources, has used its massive political clout to stymie renewable energy. The Richmond-based power company has steadfastly squelched any effort by the General Assembly to set mandatory renewable portfolio standards that 29 other states use to force a certain percentage of power generation come from solar, wind other renewable sources.

The results are that neighboring states that do have mandatory standards have a lot more renewable energy than the Old Dominion does. West Virginia has 583 megawatts of wind power. North Carolina has 335 megawatts of solar and Maryland has 262 megawatts split between wind and solar.

Virginia? A measly 18 megawatts of solar and no wind.

When the UR plan was announced, Gov. Terry McAuliffe pronounced: “Virginia must find ways to increase the diversity of the fuel we use to power our economy. My administration is committed to tapping private sector innovation to determine how the public sector can lead by example.”

His statement came just a few weeks after a planned solar power project in Northern Virginia went dark after Dominion and other utilities showed little interest in buying its output.

According to the Winchester Star and Ivy Main, a green blogger with ties to the Sierra Club, OCI Solar Power canceled a project in Clarke County that would place 100,000 solar panels on a 145-acre site. The facility would have generated 20 megawatts that could power 20,000 homes. The company ended its plans “due to the lack of long-term solar procurement efforts by Dominion and other Virginia utilities.”

So, where exactly is McAuliffe’s commitment to renewables, really? His energy plan announced last year was a carbon (excuse the pun) copy of former Gov. Robert F. McDonnell’s -- including coal, natural gas, nuclear and renewables.

According to The Richmond Times-Dispatch, after the UR plan was announced, Dominion, “which has 4.7 megawatts of solar capacity installed or being built at five locations in the state, said, ‘We appreciate the governor’s commitment to an all-of-the-above energy strategy.’”

If Virginia is serious about renewables like solar, it needs a mandatory renewable portfolio standard despite what Big Power wants.

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