Solar farm opens in Troy

Solar farm opens in Troy

By Heather Michon, correspondent

Gov. Ralph Northam was the guest of honor at Central Virginia Electric Cooperative’s (CVEC) dedication of a new solar farm in Troy on Tuesday (May 22)—but the real star of the show was the sun, which emerged just before the hour-long ceremony and vanished not long after it finished.

As a group of about 75 people, including governmental officials, company representatives, and a few anti-pipeline protesters sat in the shade of a tent, thousands of solar panels covering the nearby 41-acre field were silently converting light into energy.

If all goes as expected, the Palmer Solar Center, along with the 35-acre Martin Solar Center in Goochland County near Kents Store, will be doing that job for at least the next quarter of a century.

“We’re celebrating a monumental achievement here today,” CVEC president Gary Wood said in his opening remarks.

Together, the Palmer and Martin Solar Centers can produce 10 megawatts of power, enough to meet the needs of 1,200 homes a year. It is the largest solar project undertaken by an electric cooperative in Virginia to date.

The facilities were developed and built by Coronal Energy, a Charlottesville-based solar energy company. Coronal will continue to own and operate the facilities, and CVEC has contracted to buy the output from both plants for the next 25 years.

“It’s nice to finally be building solar in our own backyard,” said Jonathan Baker, chief talent officer for Coronal. The company has constructed facilities in 16 states, but this is their first in the local area.

Kyle West, vice president of development for Coronal, talked about one of the most unique things about the CVEC project.

After scouting the locations in Fluvanna and Goochland, West approached the owners, Grover and Wanda Palmer. Sometime during the negotiation process, he learned that Grover Palmer was a 39-year veteran of CVEC.

“It’s the first time in my history of solar development where the landowner is also a former employee of the utility,” West said. “What a fitting testament to just how connected co-ops are to their members and communities.”

Debra Roepke, representing the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association, said that “cooperative solar is surging across the country,” with co-ops like CVEC producing 877 megawatts of solar power nationwide and another 800 megawatts under consideration.

She noted that CVEC was one of only 10 cooperatives in the country to tackle a 10 megawatt project.
Fluvanna Board of Supervisors Chairman Mike Sheridan said he was amazed at how quickly the project came together, noting that the Board approved the zoning just 18 months ago. “You guys didn’t waste a second,” he said.

Sheridan, who teaches at Fluvanna Middle School, said he had seen young people he taught and coached among the CVEC workers at the event.

“That’s what family is all about, and that’s one of the things that’s so great about this project,” he said.

Gary Wood, CVEC president, and Gov. Ralph Northam celebrate the opening of Palmer Solar Center. Photo courtesy of CVEC

Northam was the last to speak. “You know, we have this beautiful sun that God gave us,” he said in his brief remarks, “and we need to take advantage of that.”
Northam is a strong supporter of renewable energy. In March, he signed SB 966, a sweeping reform bill that calls for the power utilities to increase Virginia’s total solar and wind generation to 5,000 megawatts in the coming years.

According to the nonpartisan Solar Foundation, Virginia’s current solar capacity is just over 600 megawatts and accounts for about half a percent of the state’s power output. Virginia ranks 20th in solar power production nationwide.

Northam stressed that investment in renewable energy isn’t just a smart environmental move: It’s smart business. It draws new businesses to the state and creates jobs.

The Solar Foundation found that jobs in the solar industry grew by 168 percent in the last seven years. Over 3,600 Virginians are currently working in solar, an increase of 10 percent in a single year.

“This project created 60 good, well-paying jobs… We want to make sure all Virginians have a job that can support them and support their families,” Northam said.

“It’s pretty phenomenal when you think about it,” he added. “Twelve hundred households powered from these two fields, without using any fossil fuels.”
Northam and Wood concluded the event by symbolically “flipping the switch,” signaling the official opening of the two facilities.

In another innovation, CVEC has earmarked 40 percent of the output from the Palmer and Martin Centers for individual members under their Solar Shares program.

Designed for those who want to use green energy but can’t install solar power panels on their homes, the program allows members to purchase up to 250 kilowatts at $4.50 per 50 kilowatt block.

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