Industries Energy/Green

Dominion says solar investment reaches $800 million

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Solar panels in Powhatan County

Dominion said Tuesday that it is investing more than $800 million in solar power in Virginia, with much of the generation being built at little or no cost to most customers.

"Our company has made a major commitment to develop significant blocks of solar generation to meet customers' energy needs going forward," Paul Koonce, CEO of Power Generation at Dominion Energy, said in a statement. "… The cost of energy powered by the sun is coming down, and we are working hard to develop projects in new and economical ways for our customers."

According to Dominion, some 398 megawatts of solar generation have either been completed or are under development throughout much of Virginia – enough to power 100,000 homes. The energy company said most of the development and construction costs will be borne by specific contractual customers such as large business and government.

In February 2015, Dominion committed to developing 400 megawatts of large-scale solar generation facilities in Virginia and placing them in service by 2020. Additionally, legislation passed by the Virginia General Assembly in 2015 found that development by Virginia utilities of up to 500 megawatts of solar projects in the state was "in the public interest." 

"We are well ahead of schedule on the solar expansion and what we have added so far will have a very minimal impact on the price of electricity for the 2.5 million regulated customers we serve in Virginia," Koonce said.

The Corporate Clean Energy Procurement Index, in partnership with the Retail Industry Leaders Association and the Information Technology Council, recently ranked Virginia among the top 20 states for solar power and in the top three for utility clean energy purchasing options.That ranking moves Virginia up considerably in national rankings compared to a few years ago when the state had little solar power installed, but it hasn’t cracked a top 10 list yet.

The Solar Energy Industries Association ranked the top 10 states based on cumulative solar capacity installed as of December 2015, and California topped the list. California has 13,241 megawatts, enough to power more than 3 million homes. The No. 10 ranked state, Texas, has installed 534 megawatts, or enough to power 57,000 homes, according to the SEIA’s survey.

In Virginia, Dominion said that more than 80 percent of the cost of the solar facilities is being covered by large business and government customers, including the Commonwealth of Virginia and the University of Virginia, who signed long-term contracts with Dominion to develop the generation.

In addition to building larger solar-powered units, Dominion's Solar Partnership Program has placed company-owned solar panels on leased rooftops and grounds of government and business properties throughout its Virginia service area. Ten of these facilities have been installed at sites including Canon in Gloucester, Old Dominion University in Norfolk and Capital One in Chester.

The commonwealth's commitment to 500 megawatts of large-scale solar development by 2020 was included in Senate Bill 1349, passed by the General Assembly in February 2015. SB 1349 froze the company's base rates – making up about 60 percent of the typical residential bill – at 2015 levels for five years. Dominion said this legislation helped provide price stability for customers as the company deals with federal air quality regulations, including those limiting power station carbon dioxide emissions.  President Trump has said he will work to overturn regulations under the Clean Power Plan pushed by President Barack Obama’s administration.

The changing energy environment prompted a move by  Sen. J. Chapman Peterson, D-Fairfax County, during this year’s General Assembly session to overturn the controversial utility rate freeze on base rates, saying it is no longer needed. The bill would have resumed rate reviews by the State Corporation Commission, which Peterson said would have brought millions in refunds for customers.The bill died in the Senate’s Labor and Commerce Committee.

Last week Gov. Terry McAuliffe belatedly came out in support of legislation to end the rate freeze that guarantees profits for Dominion Virginia Power and Appalachian Power in exchange for their commitments to invest millions of dollars in new solar power facilities.

SB 1349 also directed utilities to provide more assistance to low income, elderly and disabled customers. In response, Dominion expanded EnergyShare, committing $57 million in additional funding for EnergyShare over five years. The company said more than 20,000 families and individuals have received assistance since the expanded program began in September 2015.

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