More companies seek renewable energy
Demand from corporate America and falling costs are the drivers behind the development of renewable energy in Virginia and around the country, Garret Bean, vice president of development for sPower, told a gathering Wednesday at the 2018 Virginia Energy Conference.
Bean was one of the keynote speakers at the conference, which drew nearly 400 people to the Greater Richmond Convention Center. It was sponsored by the Virginia Chamber of Commerce.
According to Bean, it cost about $96 to develop 1 kilowatt of solar power in 1970. Today, that cost has dropped to 40 cents. “It’s no longer just a feel-good thing. It makes economic sense to put more renewables on the grid,” he said.
Bean’s company, Salt Lake City-based sPower, is the largest private owner of operating solar assets in the U.S. It operates 160 projects and is the group behind Sustainable Power Group LLC’s proposal to develop what would be the largest solar facility in Virginia: a 500-megawatt, 3,500-solar farm in rural Spotslyvania County that would be powered by nearly 1 million photovoltaic solar panels.
The company plans to sell the power to corporations throughout the state. Microsoft announced that it wants to buy nearly two thirds of the power to fulfill its goal of powering their data centers in Virginia with clean energy.
Earlier this month, a public hearing on the project drew concerns from some residents who live near the property in Fawn Lake. According to published reports, they expressed worries about possible impacts on wetlands and streams, excess water runoff and underground aquifers and what they referred to as toxic chemicals in the solar panels.
Bean pointed out that solar projects create jobs, and there is a lot of potential in Virginia for new development, a state that currently generates only about a half of a percent of its power from solar.
Currently, there are 212 solar companies in Virginia and 22 manufacturers, added Bean. His company finds Virginia an attractive state to do business, he said, because 70 percent of the world’s internet traffic flows through the commonwealth, primarily in Loudoun County, which is home to many data centers.
According to Bean, 4 percent of the nation’s power supply is used to power data centers. That number is expected to increase to 10 percent in the next five to 10 years.
Microsoft, Goggle, Apple, Facebook and more traditional companies such as Walmart are demanding clean energy sources that align with their company’s values, said Bean. They have joined an initiative known as RE100, in which the companies are committed to having 100 percent of their power generated from renewable sources.
For sPower to move forward with its massive solar farm in Virginia, the project needs special permits from Spotsylvania County and approval from the State Corporation Commission.
“Unfortunately, it comes down to whether the towns, cities and counties are willing to have these structures,” said Bean. “We wish the governor could issue some building permits.”
Gov. Ralph Northam’s administration is moving forward with developing its energy policy, said Matt Strickler, the state’s secretary of natural resources and a speaker on one of Wednesday’s panels.
There will be an emphasis on affordability and reliability, added Strickler. “The governor wants to focus on bringing more renewables online.”
To spark interest in wind, Northam announced Tuesday that the Virginia Department of Mines, Minerals and Energy is seeking proposals from qualified contractors to help deploy strategies that will strengthen Virginia’s position in attracting an offshore wind supply chain and service industry.
“Hampton Roads’ unmatched port infrastructure and high-quality maritime workforce make the region an ideal location for offshore wind energy development,” Northam said in a statement.
The request for proposals (RFP) focuses on expertise in port infrastructure requirements, build-out of the various offshore wind supply chain sectors and long-term maritime service needs.
“We look forward to collaborating on business partnership, business climate,and workforce development strategies aimed at fulfilling the offshore wind industry’s needs,” said Department of Mines, Minerals and Energy Director John Warren.
Proposals must be submitted by June 22.