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The power of the sun

Dominion Energy gets approval to buy power from Western Tidewater solar farms

A solar farm in Suffolk and another in Isle of Wight and Surry counties are part of the solar projects approved by the State Corporation Commission that will provide power for Dominion Energy customers across the state.

The commission granted approval for Dominion Energy’s plans to purchase power from six solar farms and own and operate three others. The solar farms will total 500 megawatts, enough energy to power up to 125,000 homes.

The six solar farms Dominion will purchase power from include the 20-megawatt Pleasant Hill Solar Center in Suffolk, the 240-megawatt Cavalier Solar project in Isle of Wight and Surry counties, as well as the 118-megawatt Chesapeake Solar project and three others in the western state localities of Halifax County, Wythe County and Albemarle County.

Dominion will own and operate the 20-megawatt Grassfield Solar in Chesapeake, the 20-megawatt Norge Solar in James City County and the 42-megawatt Sycamore Solar facility in Pittsylvania County.

Dominion, in a statement, said the projects “represent a major step toward achieving the goals of the Virginia Clean Economy Act and its goals of net-zero emissions” and would support about 750 jobs and provide more than $100 million in benefits to the state economy.

The six solar farms that are part of power purchase agreements were picked following a competitive solicitation process.

“This is another major step forward in building a clean energy economy in Virginia,” Ed Baine, president of Dominion Energy Virginia, said in a statement. “Our customers deserve reliable and affordable energy, and they also deserve a clean environment. These projects will help us deliver on that promise.”

The Suffolk City Council approved solar farm regulations in September 2016 and included a requirement that all onsite transmission and power lines be placed underground, and that they could not direct glare onto neighboring properties or public roads. They also must have perimeter security fencing and warning signs, and must have a minimum 15-foot vegetative buffer around the property.

The Pleasant Hill Solar Center on Hosier Road is located on about 180 acres of a 208-acre site about two miles south-southwest of downtown Suffolk.

According to its owner, Sun Tribe Solar, the project has obtained all required local land use approvals with the city, and received its conditional use permit from council in August 2017. In June 2019, it received a two-year extension of its permit, which extends through this August.

The project is expected to begin construction in the first three months of 2022, and expects to be operating between April and June 2022, with construction to take about four to six months. At the end of its expected 35-year lifecycle, the entire facility will be removed and the land returned to its pre-solar condition.

The project in Isle of Wight and Surry counties would span 4,328 acres across the southern part of Surry County southeast of Dendron and northern Isle of Wight County, with about 3,314 acres to be purchased or leased for the project, and its facilities to cover about 1,341 acres, according to a general project description provided to Surry County. However, according to the project description from an April 19 SCC hearing examiner report — which recommended regulatory approval — it would be installed on 1,776 acres, and its site would be about 4,707 acres.

A decision on the project by the Surry County Board of Supervisors was delayed until May 6 following an April 1 public hearing during the board’s monthly meeting.

Though Dominion’s approval from the SCC notes that it would be a 170-megawatt solar farm, the project itself is expected to generate 240 megawatts of power, with about 193 megawatts being in Surry. The electricity from it would feed into the grid through a nearby Dominion Energy substation.

If approved, construction would take about 18 months, and according to the SCC hearing examiner report, the target date for commercial operation would be Dec. 31, 2022. Cavalier officials told Surry County supervisors that its $225 million investment would generate about $16.7 million in revenue for the county, with the solar farm’s lifespan expected to be 35 years.

Cavalier seeks county approval of a comprehensive plan map amendment, a rezoning application, a conditional use permit and a “substantially in accord” determination. Cavalier Solar is a subsidiary of Salt Lake City-based sPower, a utility-scale wind and solar company.

The Isle of Wight Planning Commission has already given its recommendation to the parts of the project there.

The Virginia Clean Economy Act calls for 16,100 megawatts of solar or onshore wind to be proposed to the State Corporation Commission or be in operation by 2035, with about one-third of that to be from power purchase agreements.

In the fall, Dominion Energy will submit its annual filing to the SCC seeking approval to build or buy another group of solar, wind and energy storage projects. The company plans to issue requests for proposals from developers to support the filings.