Governor Terry McAuliffe has announced a massive solar project will begin construction in Danville starting later this summer. The project, know as the Kentuck Solar Project, will be “Virginia’s largest largest municipal utility solar farm,” aims to be a six megawatt solar array which could power up to 900 homes in the Danville area, meeting about 1.5% of the city’s power needs. Additionally, the project hopes to offset the carbon emissions equivalent to 35,338 homes over its lifespan.
“The clean energy industry holds great potential for economic development in all parts of Virginia, especially areas like Southside that have struggled with job growth as core industries have declined,” said McAuliffe in a statement released earlier this month. The project comes in accordance with the governor’s Clean Energy Jobs Tour.
McAuliffe was joined at a roundtable discussion by Jason Grey, Director of Utilities for the City of Danville, and Joe Davis, Commissioner for the Dan River District of the Pittsylvania County Board of Supervisors. Both men added comments about the benefit this project would have for Danville as well as the region.
Representatives from Sol Systems and Turning Point Energy, the developers for the project, also sat in on the announcement.
“This is the first of many utility-scale solar project investments for us in Virginia, and we believe the local community and partners in Danville are a model of what can be accomplished by working together,” said George Ashton, president of Sol Systems. Sol Systems is the financing partner and will oversee construction.
Turning Point Energy announced the plan on their website. The company owns the 76-acre plot of land that the plant will be built on.
The project spans across the Pittsylvania County School district, and will cross into several private properties. The single-axis tracker system itself will have over 23,000 panels, but will be surrounded by a vegetation buffer to “preserve aesthetics.”
Jason Grey noted that some residents of the area were concerned about the location of the project. “The property is situated between a high school, a middle school, and an elementary school. I think they would rather see the property used differently. These projects are, once they’re constructed there, in place for 25, 30 years,” he said in an interview with RVA Mag. However, Grey said that the response was only from a handful of Danville residents; the majority were in support of the project and what it could do for the area.
Turning Point Energy emphasizes the $10 million investment for the Commonwealth will especially help the area by providing “75 clean energy jobs during construction, boost the local economy, and provide long-term, integrated resource planning for the City of Danville.” Danville Utilities, which happens to be the largest municipal utility in Virginia, will purchase the energy for its customers over a 25 year period.
The governor’s main concern for the project, as well as the city and county representatives, includes creating jobs and providing clean energy alternatives. According to The Solar Foundation, which was cited by Turning Point Energy, “In 2016, the state added 1,273 new solar jobs, up 65 percent over 2105. Projections for 2017 estimate an increase in solar jobs of 9 percent.”
In fact, the use of solar power in Virginia has been increasing year by year, according to Solar Energy Industries Association, which was also cited by Turning Point Energy. Virginia ranks 17th nationally in terms of solar use in 2016 and 20th overall.
Democratic Gubernatorial candidate and current Lt. Governor Ralph Northam said he understood the positive impact this project could have on the Danville community in terms of jobs.
“They have lost jobs from other industries, so this is something for 21st century jobs, we refer to as STEAM-related jobs now,” said Northam in an interview with RVA Mag. “This is a nice step for Danville.”
“Since 2014, we’ve added 200 megawatts of energy from solar, and just this past year, regarding jobs, we’ve increased the jobs from solar by about 65%, just in the last year in Virginia,” he said. “We’re making a lot of progress.”
Virginia’s Republican gubernatorial candidate, Ed Gillespie, was unavailable for an interview, but David Abrams, a comms person for the former RNC official and businessman, said in a statement that the candidate “is encouraged by the rapid expansion of solar power in Virginia, which means more good jobs and a cleaner environment.”
“As governor he’ll help lead efforts to diversify Virginia’s energy portfolio for more affordable and reliable energy,” he said.