Donning a bright yellow reflective safety vest, hard hat and gloves Thursday afternoon, Gov. Terry McAuliffe helped install the last of 235,900 solar panels covering just more than 100 acres in Remington.
Wielding a socket wrench, the governor bolted the final 2-by-4-foot panel into place and connected the wires to enable energy collection.
The solar farm represents a partnership between Dominion Energy, the commonwealth of Virginia and Microsoft Corp., a project three years in the making.
“It’s great to have a sunny day when you’re doing a ribbon-cutting for a solar facility,” said Paul Koonce, executive vice president and president and CEO of Dominion’s Power Generation Group.
McAuliffe said that when he took office Virginia had just 17 megawatts of solar energy being produced—enough to power just 4,250 homes.
“I’m proud to announce that here in Virginia three years later, we now have 2,600 megawatts either installed or under construction here in the commonwealth,” McAuliffe said.
When the sun shines, the $47 million Remington project will produce 20 megawatts—enough to power the equivalent of 5,000 average homes.
At the Remington farm, the ground-mounted, fixed-tilt rows of solar cells line two parcels bisected by power lines and towers. To protect the unmanned facility, a 7-foot tall fence rings the property.
The solar power facility, which took nine months to construct, is the largest of its kind that far north in Virginia. The solar panels each have a lifespan of about 25 years, according to Dominion.
“Energy generation is virtually instantaneous,” said Katharine Bond, senior policy advisor for Dominion. “When the sun is shining, it’s generating energy. And this partnership is unique because it brings more solar to Virginia.”
The public–private partnership allowed construction of the solar farm on land already owned by Dominion Energy in buffer areas near the company’s natural gas facility on Lucky Hill Road in southwestern Fauquier County.
The state buys power generated at a discounted rate while Microsoft is able to purchase renewable energy credit certificates for each megawatt hour produced.
Once purchased, Microsoft will retire the certificates to satisfy the company’s stated renewable energy goals.
Jim Collins, director of energy markets for the tech giant, said Microsoft plans to continue investing in both rural internet access and renewable energy in Virginia, home of its largest data center in Mecklenburg County. In addition to Virginia, Microsoft pledged to purchase enough megawatts of wind energy in Illinois and Texas to fully power its data centers in those states.
McAuliffe said that in order to competitively attract 21st century companies, Virginia must be able to offer them renewable energy. Currently, about 4 percent of the state’s energy needs come from a renewable source.
“This is a win–win all the way around,” said McAuliffe.
McAuliffe pointed to renewable energy for job creation.
According to the governor, there are currently 77,000 jobs in energy efficiency across Virginia, compared with about 1,700 remaining jobs in the coal industry.
The governor also warned that failure to invest in power sources such as solar could eventually be catastrophic for the state, particularly the Hampton Roads region, where the sea level is rising.
“I’ve told everyone for a long time in Virginia we have to be very serious about climate change. It is real. It is happening,” he said. “This is a very important message for the environment, for reducing carbon emissions, showing the world that we are serious about climate change and we’re doing something about it.”