Solar farm brings benefits

Published 12:38 pm Thursday, September 7, 2017

About 5,000 of the estimated 66,000 solar panels have been installed at Dominion Energy’s Buckingham I Solar Facility — a nearly 200-acre project that has an estimated value of more than $35 million.

While the energy from the 20-megawatt facility will be acquired by Amazon’s cloud computing business, Amazon Web Services (AWS), those who live in the area of the High Rock Road facility in eastern Buckingham will benefit from its presence.

Last November, Dominion Energy Inc. purchased the then-Virginia Solar LLC- owned energy facility, according to a press release.

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The solar facility purchased as part of the Virginia Solar agreement are expected to enter service in late 2017, officials stated in the release.

AWS terms the facility as “Amazon Solar Farm U.S. East 2,” according to its website.

Referring to other solar facilities in the state, including Buckingham’s, AWS noted the “solar farms are expected to start generating a total of more than 190,000 megawatt hours of solar power annually by the end of 2017 — or enough to power over 17,000 U.S. homes in a year.”

Last August, the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality (VDEQ) issued a permit for the facility in Buckingham. Ten percent of the project cost — $3.5 million — is expected to contribute directly to the local economy, officials have said.

In November 2015, county supervisors granted the firm a special use permit to operate and construct the facility.

The project could produce about 40 million kilowatt hours of electricity annually, enough to power up to 4,500 homes, according to Virginia Solar.

The project will employ solar arrays, panels, photovoltaic modules and inverter stations.

“AWS has publicly shared its long-term goal to achieve 100 percent renewable energy usage for its global infrastructure, and will exceed its goal of 40 percent renewable energy usage by the end of 2016,” officials said in the earlier release.

Dominion Energy, which owns and will operate the project, is leasing the land for the facility.

Dominion Energy spokesman Ryan Frazier said the facility would produce energy between 25 and 35 percent of the time.

“It’s going to run never at night, obviously, and in the daytime you’re looking at your peak hours are probably between 10 a.m.-4 p.m., 10 a.m.-3 p.m., somewhere around there. Anytime you get more power on the grid it’s a good thing.”

“The more diverse we are, the less our customers will have fluctuations in their bills,” Frazier said.

“They will benefit from the energy that’s produced here,” Frazier said of those living in the area of the solar facility. “An electron’s going to jump off where it’s needed on the line. When it’s on the line, it’s going down the line … So, think of it as a highway. You’ve got a distribution line like this, it goes north or south, and then there are exits. Well, if there’s a circuit to the left that needs more juice, then it’s going to go to the left. It could be a home, it could be a business.”

“That will happen less the closer you are to that direct source,” Dominion Energy spokeswoman Sarah Perkinson said, referring to how in some homes the lights dim when many appliances are being used at once. “So, for the houses around here, when they turn every TV on in the house and every light on in the house, they most likely will not see as much of that dim because they’re closer to the source.”

“But the paper trail will say (the energy’s) going to Amazon,” Frazier noted of the energy produced by the facility. “But the direct beneficiaries will be people who live around here. They’ll have more power coming on to the grid.”

According to Project Construction Manager Dan Beauchamp, who works for Dominion Energy, there are three areas that make up the solar project, which is occupying about 121 acres of the 191-acre facility. Area One has seen the most work and activity, and has some solar panels installed, but is not yet energized.

The estimated 66,000 panels, once operational, will follow the sun’s path.

Area Three remains in its infancy, officials said.

Strata Solar is the general contractor for the project.

While the target date of having the facility online is December, there are expected to be about 250 workers on site at the peak of construction, which is set to be at the end of this month.

“What we’ve said is we expect by the end of next year to have more than 700 megawatts of solar online in Virginia and North Carolina in the two-state area,” Frazier said. He said Dominion’s goal is “to not have all our eggs in one basket,” noting the sources of energy Dominion Energy pulls from, including coal, natural gas, nuclear, wind and solar.

Frazier said he believed “any energy you’re producing that’s going on the grid is helping the grid be more sustainable over the years. It helps the grid, it fortifies the grid, it makes sure there’s power on there.”