Solar Power Building Momentum in Virginia

Dominion solar farm in Buckingham County.

Dominion Energy has grown its solar fleet in Virginia and North Carolina over the past two years from near zero to nearly 1,350 megawatts in service, in construction or under development — enough to power 340,000 homes during peak sunshine. That makes Dominion sixth among owners of electric utilities, the company said in a press release issued yesterday.

In Virginia, there are 27 solar generating facilities on 4,683 acres, equating to about 444 MW of solar capacity either in operation or under development. Construction of another 300 MW of solar is planned to support a Facebook data center planned in Henrico County. The company’s long-term energy forecast calls for 5,200 megawatts of new solar generation over the next 25 years.

Nationally, parent company Dominion Energy now claims to have the sixth largest fleet of solar facilities in the country. Meanwhile, Appalachian Power, has issued RFPs for up to 10 megawatts of solar production. Virginia’s second-largest utility is leaning more on wind power to build its renewable energy portfolio.

“It’s not just about Dominion Energy meeting its clean energy goals, it’s also about helping our customers achieve theirs,” said Paul Koonce, president and CEO of Dominion Energy’s Power Generation Group. “We have a responsibility to offer the right programs, resources and solutions so our customers can make smart decisions about their energy future, and the key is we’re doing it together.”

Two years ago critics were blasting Dominion Virginia Power for its slow adoption of renewable energy. You don’t hear that much any more. Today foes contend that the utility is interested only in projects that it can own, operate, and generate profits from itself.

Working with solar companies and environmental groups, Dominion cut a “community solar” deal last year in which independent outfits would own and operate the solar farms while Dominion would own the entity that bundled the electricity generation and marketed it to consumers.

Now attacks tend to focus on charges that Dominion discourages development of rooftop solar by individuals and businesses. Virginia, critics say, needs to move to a distributed (more decentralized) grid that can accommodate thousands of small, independent contributors to the grid. A big sticking point is the level of compensation Dominion receives for the critical task of maintaining the transmission and distribution system as well as back-up capacity for when the sun doesn’t shine.

The company says it is seeking State Corporation Commission approval “for a 100 percent renewable energy option for residential and small commercial and industrial customers, as well as an option for business customers to purchase renewable generation equal to a specific portion of their energy usage.”

Dominion also has signaled its intention to modernize the electric grid to make it safer from cyber threats and to accommodate distributed contributors to the grid. “A smart energy grid,” said the press release, “will enable the company to seamlessly connect with cleaner energy resources, including private solar and other local generation sources.”

Ivy Main, who tracks solar energy developments for the Virginia chapter of the Sierra Club, wrote in her blog, Power to the People, that she expects a raft of solar energy bills to be submitted in the 2018 session of the General Assembly. At the top of her list of wants, she would like to end the 1% cap on the amount of energy that can be supplied through net-metered distributed energy and also to remove standby charges on residential solar. She also would like to liberalize power purchase agreements (PPAs) that would allow third parties to structure deals allowing universities, schools, local governments and non-profits to take advantage of solar tax credits.

Main also calls for pilot products to test the concept of microgrids, which are appearing in other states. “Promoting microgrids as one way to keep the lights on for critical facilities and emergency shelters when the larger grid goes down,” she writes. “A microgrid combines energy sources and battery storage to enable certain buildings to ‘island’ themselves and keep the power on. Solar is a valuable component of a microgrid because it doesn’t rely on fuel supplies that can be lost or suffer interruptions.”

There are currently no comments highlighted.

32 responses to “Solar Power Building Momentum in Virginia

  1. re: ” In Virginia, there are 27 solar generating facilities on 4,683 acres, equating to about 444 MW of solar capacity either in operation or under development. ‘

    ” Garret Bean, vice president of development for Utah-based Sustainable Power Group, said the company’s proposed 3,500-acre, 500-megawatt solar farm off West Catharpin Road would produce enough energy to power 82,000 homes a year.”

    ” The approximately 1 million solar panels would be from 5 to 7 feet tall”

    ” Bean said the company chose the site because of its proximity to a Dominion Energy-owned substation.It would sell the power the solar farm generates to corporations throughout Virginia and possibly other states.

    “We are not selling power directly to you—all we are doing is putting it into the electrical grid,” he said. ”

    Another interesting thing is that this site is about 12 miles from the North Anna Nuclear plant…is on land that has been clear-cut and it has thousands of acres of other land around it that has sludge from NoVa spread on it.

    Not a word from Dominion as to whether the grid in that location can handle that much solar… 82,000 homes worth… in all of Spotsylvania County, there are about 60,000 homes..

    • Speaking of numbers of homes: Personally I dislike the use of statistics like “enough to power XX homes.” I know it’s p.r. practice to provide some sense of scale to otherwise meaningess numbers — except, it is so imprecise that it ends up confusing things, and use of megawatts (MW) or megawatthours (mwh) is not all that meaningless to people familiar with energy issues. If you want to give context, keep reminding folks that Dominion’s forecast summer peak load for this year, 2018, is just a little over 20,000 MW. So 1,350 MW is not trivial, but equal to around 7% of Dominion’s peak load, and of course a higher percentage on days with lower demand.

      By the way, you say Dominion now has “nearly 1,350 megawatts [of solar generation] in service, in construction or under development — enough to power 134,000 homes during peak sunshine.” That’s 1000 kW per home, which looked low to me. It turns out there’s a typo here; 134,000 was 340,000 in the press release. That works out to 4000 kilowatts per home which is more like it. For example, this from the Honda Generator website: “If your home has a smaller furnace and city water, you can generally expect that 3000-5000 watts will cover your needs. If you have a larger furnace and/or a well pump, you will likely need a 5000 to 6500 watt generator.”

  2. What are the security risks with a solar farm and how are they being addressed? It’s my understanding that it’s pretty hard to get into or even near a conventional power plant, including nukes. I’ve only seen a few solar farms. They seem to be protected with only a fence – maybe some alarms.

    How vulnerable are they to an attack with a small bomb or even a gang of thugs with baseball bats?

  3. Well, the solar/wind game of enormous change injected into a highly complex grid and generation system where dependability of highly complex brand new technology is critical, but where politics in a strong force in forcing solutions, is now obviously in play, off and running across the landscape of Virginia.

    Such explosive large scale change in complex systems the deeply affect society and how it functions will typically bring in its wake chaos, confusion, and learning on the job that result in methods, means and solutions that are too often are ill fitted to proper function and best practices, so that the results are littered with mistakes having long term adverse impact. Like happened for example in the suburban residential and commercial building explosion between 1970 and 2000 in Northern Va.

    The question is can Virginia avoid these mistakes here, are its systems and regulations in place to assure the new things are built right. An earlier post and its comments on this blog dealt with some of these issues.

    See https://www.baconsrebellion.com/41038-2/

  4. In terms of impacts .. and security .. consider this:

    Public can offer remarks on sludge being spread in 6452 acres of land in Spotsylvania [ this site is about 3 miles from the solar site.

    Unlike the solar – counties like Spotsylvania cannot deny putting sewage sludge from the Blue Plains treatment plant in NoVA on 6500 acres… That is one of more than a dozen similar sites in Spotsylvania that have sewage sludge spread on them.

    I do, in fact, recall Spotsylvanians who opposed it saying things along the lines of ” such explosive large scale change in complex systems the deeply affect society and how it functions will typically bring in its wake chaos, confusion, and learning on the job that result in methods, means and solutions that are too often are ill fitted to proper function and best practices, so that the results are littered with mistakes having long term adverse impact. ” .. and actually worse… talk of revolution and insurrection!

    😉

    in terms of security – consider how many miles of 250 kv powerline – land substation that the solar panes want to hook up to have “security” other than some fences around the substation and nothing around the power lines.

    I would imagine if you offered someone the choice of solar panels or sewage sludge in their neck of the woods.. most would choose solar…

  5. A few days after attending a high school production of “The Music Man”, I went to a public hearing on a conditional use permit to allow a solar farm on acreage in western Goochland. After the solar group’s presentation, I was convinced that if Meredith Wilson were writing today, Harold Hill would be selling solar panels.

  6. I’d like to share some of the sentiment in Culpeper over a proposed solar farm:

    All 14 speakers during a public hearing at Wednesday night’s Culpeper County Planning Commission meeting said they wholeheartedly support solar energy.

    Before the commission voted to table the issue for 60 days, however, 13 of those speakers urged the commissioners to deny recommending a conditional-use permit for Virginia Solar to construct a 150-acre solar farm on land just off Glen Ella Road between Culpeper and Brandy.

    Why? Most said it was because the project was in their neighborhood and they didn’t want to look at it. And they feared it would lower their property values.

    The speakers at Wednesday’s meeting gave other reasons for not wanting the county first solar farm to become a reality. Many objected to the sound of pile drivers pounding the posts into the ground, posts that would support the thousands of solar panels. There was also the truck traffic the construction phase would create.

    One woman, a nurse, contended that electromagnetic waves produced by high-voltage electricity had been linked to breast cancer, while another man is worried that security cameras that reportedly will be installed in the facility might spy on neighbors.

    Dairy farmers down the road from the proposed project’s location were concerned about their effects the six months of construction would have on their cattle. Planning Commission Chairman Sanford Reaves agreed, saying that this was untried technology and that he was hesitant to recommend approval of a project that “might cause cows to give green milk.”

    County Planning Director Sam McLearen voiced a concern about migrating waterfowl that might mistake the sea of solar panels for a lake and injure themselves trying to land.

    And Doug Orye, whose property adjoins the proposed site that is owned by Culpeper businessman Tony Troilo, advised the commission not “to pay Dominion Power any more money. Dominion has enough.”

    At the Culpeper meeting this week, loss of farmland to solar projects was also an issue. Elsie Cooper said that it would be “poor stewardship” to allow solar panels to replace crops.

    “Don’t let this guinea pig turn into an albatross for you,” she said.

    In a marathon meeting that lasted almost until midnight, commissioners cross-examined Virginia Solar representative Matthew Meares for nearly 45 minutes following his presentation about the project.

    Commissioner Sally Underwood questioned whether the solar farm would be of any benefit to Culpeper and others were concerned that the electricity produced would not be directly used to power homes in Culpeper.

    At least two commissioners, Josh Milson–Martula and Cindy Thornhill, said that they thought no compromise could be reached and sought a denial recommendation. Both voted against the motion to table the issue because they felt they could not support the request no matter what.”

    When I hear that “hysterical” enviros are involved in the coal ash issue – I then turn around and listen to the folks opposed to solar – which generates ZERO coal ash or pollution.. Listen to these folks… It’s downright bizarre…

    Let me remind again – If someone wanted to put sewage sludge on that property – it could not be denied… a gas powerplant would likewise gain virtually guaranteed approval.. but solar? geeze…

  7. Yes, Larry, NIMBY lives….

    This is all fluffy PR setting the stage for the Big Reveal next week as Dominion tells us what great ideas it has for the use of our money, rather than – uh – letting us keep it. Cut the excessive rates? Noooooo – The show is about to begin, Virginia. Tune in here for play by play….

  8. NIMBY not only lives but it’s embarrassingly ignorant and selective …. opposition based on the “disruption” caused by the installation of solar panels… as if such work is any more or less “disruptive” than any other construction for new buildings for farms or homes… “traffic impacts” ? Really? for a solar farm? viewshed? really? some of the sites already are farm fields lined with trees or can have trees planted just as is done with electric substations – which , by the way , seems to be one of the criteria for siting solar – i.e. proximity to substations and/or high voltage power lines.

    The more curious thing to me is that for the last 2-3 years, conventional wisdom has been that Dominion could stop 3rd party solar. For instance, Amazon / community solar had to go to the Eastern Shore and it’s local co-op to install solar for a data center site in NoVA.

    NOW, we’re seeing an explosion of solar all around Virginia.. not just small sites.. but bigger and bigger sites.. the latest one in Spotsylvania is thousands of acres and enough generation to serve 80,000 homes.

    Not being sold to Dominion but to businesses located outside the service area of Dominion… some , outside of Virginia but in the PJM region.

    We’ve been told that such large site solar can be disruptive to the grid unless the grid has been updated/modernized to be able to handle swings such as happens with solar.. we’ve been told that’s why Dominion won’t buy or allow solar but here we are with 3rd parties building large solar willy nilly right in the middle of Dominion’s service area – hooking up to their power lines, substations… i.e. their grid …

    So what has changed that has resulted in this wave of solar we are seeing?

    Does Jim have an answer? How about Acbar, TomH, cleanwater ???

    Anyone know how and why new solar sites are being proposed , almost on a weekly basis?

    • As I understand it (and I still have a lot to learn), there is a big difference between the transmission system and the distribution system. The transmission system does a better job of handling fluctuations and volatile electricity flows than does the distribution system. So, someone could consider building a huge solar plant and plug into the transmission system, selling through PJM, without causing a lot of alarm. Conversely, a large electric load plugged into the local distribution system could wreak havoc without the proper modernization and upgrades.

    • Larry, you ask, “So what has changed that has resulted in this wave of solar we are seeing?” My answer below.

      And Jim asks about distribution-level interconnections. The narrative persists that distribution interconnections “could wreak havoc without the proper modernization and upgrades.” Jim’s is a true statement, emphasis on “could” and “proper” — but in my experience (also, see below) major distribution system modifications are rarely necessary for smaller scale solar like DG (distributed generation aka rooftop solar). The notion that the only proper solar installation in Virginia is one of these big “utility scale” affairs is wrong headed, but needs to be rebutted. With all this glib talk about “net metering” being good for those who take advantage of it, we fail to note that it costs everyone else extra on their utility bills, and puts Dominion in the position where promoting DG only hurts its other ratepayers all the more. So being hostile to distribution connections with small generators is something we ought to expect from Dominion, but it’s unfortunate. Let’s get rid of these DG disincentives like net metering.

  9. It’s good to see new proposals offered. But there also needs to be an analysis of them, just like there needs to be an analysis of proposals from Dominion, as to their impact on residential and small business customers.

    • Yes, TMT – I agree on both counts.

      To quote S. E. Warwick above re: “The Music Man, I went to a public hearing on a conditional use permit to allow a solar farm on acreage in western Goochland. After the solar group’s presentation, I was convinced that if Meredith Wilson were writing today, Harold Hill would be selling solar panels.”

      In any altogether new line of business, you are going to get a lot of quick buck artists. Folks who are long on hot air and short on performance and integrity and simple know how. These con artists often can do a lot a long term damage quick. I saw that happen in the 1960s when those sorts of quick buck crooks ruined the new redevelopment of Rosslyn Virginia for a generation. Rosslyn has yet to fully recover more than 50 years later.

      Regarding Solar Panels:

      Within the last few years, I have seen obvious examples of this thoughtless and sloppy work in the location and building of solar panel farms that do obviously unnecessary and often gratuitous harm to the surrounding countryside. Unfortunately, it does not take many of these inexcusable projects to ruin an entire neighborhood and region. We saw this time and time again in Northern Virginia, the cheap roadside strip projects that turned what had been very valuable land with enormous upside potential for creating great long term wealth into what instead became “No Where Places.”

      These sorts of results, whether it be Wind Farms, Solar Farms, or roadside development of any kind will invariably strip massive amounts of value out of other peoples lands and other peoples’ rights to enjoy those lands, including not least those succeeding generations who are harmed by the pornographic visual experience of driving through those No Where Places.

      • To appreciate this threat to proper development of solar panels and wind towers in ways that best assure the increase of land and neighborhood long term value and utility, we need understand the forces and circumstances that too often allow these threats to arise.

        For example, in the case of Rosslyn in the 1960’s, the area had been a long term blight, a hodgepodge of pawn-shops, liquor stores and related businesses of ill repute mixed in with industrial uses, all birthed by Rossyln’s location just across the river from Georgetown DC, a kind of poor cousin relation to Alexandria, Va. a few miles down river.

        This changed dramatically when the US General Services Administration mandated that the rapidly expanding Federal Offices and Agencies could now for the first time be located outside Washington DC proper.

        Abruptly Rosslyn became the closest “free port” locale in the entire US, its key location accessed in minutes by Key Bridge. A land / building rush suddenly flooded Rosslyn.

        But there was a big catch and complication.

        The General Services administration, driven by its low bid mentality and incompetent bid approval standards, was ill equipped culturally and expertise wise to evaluate and cull out building proposals tendered by private cut rate developers. These were the very builders who knew how to rig this incompetent system and so win in this suddenly wild and wide open market what now suddenly was flooded with low bid, shoddy work builders who quickly mastered the art of flawed Government Contracting if only because their strength was con artistry deception, instead of good building practices and good business ethics.

        So the con artists, armed with the advantages under an incompetent system, won all the bids and so soon filled Rosslyn with cheap flimsy single use buildings that were obsolete from the day of their completion chock full of code violations, and falling apart within a couple of years. Arlington County too, although honest, was on the very low side of a very steep learning curve, compounding the problems. But Arlington County to its great credit, unlike Fairfax County, did learn how to correct its mistakes. This in fact is what gave birth to the highly competent planning building of the Courthouse to Ballson Corridor and construction, the heart of its new downtown, started in the 1970s.

        Lets not let this happen all over again with the Wind and Solar farms.

  10. Nothing has changed — except, perhaps, the exhaustion of sites further south but within PJM, where the wholesale electric market pays reasonably well.

    If you are looking to develop a solar generating site, you need several things:

    1. Lowest up-front costs. The primary up front costs are the land, and the “extension cord” to connect to the nearest transmission line. Others are road access for construction, and permitting costs (time and lawyers). The transmission interconnection cost also depends on whether the developer has to build a new substation or can locate near an existing one, and whether the transformers and other equipment in the substation will require expensive modification or have enough existing capacity to handle the generation at full output.

    2. Highest electrical output. The difference between the amount of sunlight falling at the latitude of a site in northern VA versus one in southern NC is slight, but constant over the entire life of the project, so it adds up. And there is the average cloudiness factor, which can outweigh the latitude factor. And how many hours or days lost to snow. And at low sun angles, air moisture and air pollution can affect the insolation significantly.

    3. Best wholesale price. PJM’s energy market offers a fairly predictable and moderately high energy price anywhere on its grid, and PJM also has a market for long term capacity sales. PJM does not itself buy RECs (renewable energy credits) but facilitates their sale in State-run exchanges by doing the accounting for those exchanges. To the south of PJM each of these components would have to be negotiated with the local transmission owner. To the north and west, there are other grid operators (MISO, ISONE, NYISO) with markets comparable to those in PJM. But higher latitude, more cloudiness and more expensive land costs are negatives further northeast — so, for the East Coast, southern PJM may be a sweet spot.

    I’ve been saying for some years now, Dominion is a good location for solar development. The only big advantage NC had was the State tax incentives offered there, which have expired now I believe. And the present explosion of interest in Virginia only confirms it.

    Jim, I do take issue with your distinction between transmission and distribution connections. The big difference is the obvious one: transmission lines operate at higher voltages (typically at/above 115 kV) and have higher capacities, so if you’re developing a solar generator with an output north of 10 MW you’d better look for a site near a transmission substation. But whether the connection is at a distribution or a transmission voltage, the new generator has to pay for all modifications to the grid to accommodate its power injection, and there may be more unused capability in the nearest substation at a lower than higher voltage. There is nothing inherently infeasible about a “distribution” connection point at, say, 34 or 69 kV — except, the complexity of the arrangements. PJM offers one-stop-shopping for a transmission-level interconnection, and direct connection to the PJM markets. A distribution-level connection requires the generator to deal with the distribution owner — say, Dominion, or one of Virginia’s many electric coops. The generator is under the operational control of the distribution owner’s control center, not PJM directly. The distribution owner has to buy the generator’s output and resell it to PJM or to its own customers. The billing and bookkeeping is more complex. Dominion has a framework for doing this already laid out in its tariff filed with the SCC, but it’s still more complicated and fraught with negotiation points.

    Dominion, I think unfairly, apparently does not take issue with your suggestion that it’s more expensive to accommodate solar at the distribution level. Perhaps they are content to reinforce the notion that the distribution system will require lots of expensive fixes and upgrades before allowing distributed (rooftop) generation by homeowners with two-way flows on the distribution part of the grid. In general, it simply isn’t true. Distributed generation is the next frontier and Dominion is not promoting DG like it should.

    • Unless I am missing something, this process, however well it may work technically and financially for some or many, could well do enormous damage to the “neighborhood,” and others living in it and passing through it. Of course, this is typical of many locales all over the country, where our culture, politics, and system of doing business simply does not give a damn. Look it how Virginia littered up its roadsides for generations. Like Rt. 29 into C’ville. One wonders why some of us so often thoughtlessly live like pigs.

  11. From Barracks Road to the Rivanna, US 29 is an insult to city planning. But in general, the sites most sought after by solar generation developers are located where the land costs least, like abandoned fields away from highways, even surrounded by forest, so long as there is a field with good southern exposure and a transmission substation nearby.

    What I don’t understand is why those jurisdictions having such locations (and they know who they are) don’t exercise a little judgment on behalf of the public in how they zone for solar and how they apply the zoning. Just because they’re desperate for the tax base doesn’t mean they can’t require a special use permit with relatively inexpensive-to-satisfy conditions for screening the site from nearby roads.

    • Yes, this is precisely the point. Either the local business ruling class and its allied forces are too powerful to overcome, or the local culture of governance is too weak, ignorant, and lacking in imagination to see how the lack of local zoning controls have so easily and utterly destroyed their future, including the long term land values within their county for generations. This is too often the case in the Commonwealth of Virginia, self induced poverty and environmental wastage at the the local level.

      This is obvious in numerous locales. Take Accomack and Northampton Counties on Virginia’s Eastern Shore. Compare those two counties to those on Maryland’s adjoining Eastern Shore. Do it by car and you will see that the root of the problem is obvious. Perhaps Virginia’s new Governor do something about this, given that Accomack is his home.

      • I hope so. Not that we should hold up US 13 or 113, even in MD, as examples of pastoral beauty. Only around Salisbury does it seem to have been cleaned up with any sort of master plan in mind. US 50 has got a little better treatment from MD as the semi-express tourist corridor to Ocean City.

        • I agree. Trashy development can pop up most anywhere. It often does. New Jersey is among the most beautiful and aesthetically refined of states. And its among the most trashy of states. Compare areas around Princeton, historic and gorgeous, to areas around the Jersey Turnpike, also historic yet labelled the Armpit of the Nation. Or the Pine Barrens versus Atlantic City. A drive up Jersey’s side of the Hudson is full of such contrasts. So is what I observed in late 20th century between San Diego versus Tijuana, Mexico.

          What generates these contrasts?

          Is it wealth or poverty? Is it culture? Good government versus bad? Global Warming? Too many Democrats, or Republicans? Too many Deplorables? Too many people of a certain race, color, language, imperial tradition, religion, or bad habits? Are there too many victims, oppressed people, books, or inequality.

          These are tricky questions. Truth here is very illusive.

          In the 1970’s, I traveled on foot for 30 days to one of the most isolated and far away places in the world. Places most of a month from the nearest road, passing through villages built by hand from mud and thatch, places where iron, glass, medicines, motors, and phones were unknown. Yet theses villages were among cleanest, best planned, designed and built, and most functional and sustainable villages that I could ever have imagined. All built by the people who lived there, people as industrious, happy, and religious as I could ever have imaged.

          Yes, in those times in the 1970s, Shangri La existed on a Lost Horizon one ridge south of Tibet. In places where parents, grandparents, kids, and their lovers, had lived for generations in a single room heated by yak dung fires one ridge south of Tibet. This was a place where I, a total alien and stranger, using soap to wash in a mountain stream, caused wonderment akin to a near sacred celebration. Yet three decades later many of these places had collapsed into killing fields.

          Why? Do we even have the words or language to describe this collapse much less figure this collapse out?

          A drive up Route 13 from Cape Charles in Northampton County and then north through Accomack County and then into Maryland and then farther north into Delaware before one turns east off Route 13 and drives towards Federalsburg, Md that is northeast of Seaford in Delaware, this journey of a few hours by car is, in its own way, as full of nearly inexplicable contrasts as that 30 day trip through those remote areas in the Himalayas decades ago would be from one today.

          Why?

          • Why, indeed, Reed. Tell us! We demand answers!!

          • Reed Fawell 3rd

            Not sure myself, Jim. But the parallels between Accomack and those wonderful Nepalese mountains and peoples seemed suddenly obvious. Need to reply to the College trustee issue first. Then I will get back to the Eastern Shore and Western Himalayas.

  12. “Another interesting thing is that this site is about 12 miles from the North Anna Nuclear plant…is on land that has been clear-cut and it has thousands of acres of other land around it that has sludge from NoVa spread on it. Not a word from Dominion as to whether the grid in that location can handle that much solar.”

    Two observations: (1) This illustrates perfectly how sites that are environmentally undesirable and in relatively poor parts of the State may nevertheless be put into productive use for solar generation if they have the essential ingredient: a good, cheap connection to the grid. (2) The first place developers look for a transmission substation with unused capability in it is near an existing generating station. Utilities often build those substations with extra capacity in anticipation of potential expansions of their own generation at the site. In this case, North Anna Nuclear Station has it all: it’s served by multiple high voltage transmission lines and there are multiple connected substations nearby to supply neighboring communities, yet it’s located in a rural area where land is cheap and this particular parcel is undesirable for reasons that don’t matter to a solar developer.

  13. good conversation! Thanks Acbar for filling in more of the blanks!

    some further comments;

    1. – so.. the upsurge in solar in Va is due to what? NC? The conventional wisdom prior was that somehow Dominion through it’s influence in Va law and regulation could restrict it … i.e. drive it to places like Md in the Eastern Shore for an Amazon data center in NoVa. At that time there were virtually no other major solar projects in Va. Now there are a dozen or more including the latest in Spotsylvania which is 3000 acres and almost as much as all the prior projects – combined.

    2. – For every major project proposed, I do a little map survey.. I go to the location on Google Maps, satellite mode and sure enough there is a major powerline corridor and more often than not, a substation within a couple of miles… could be a coincidence.. but I suspect the folks developing that solar are also doing the same thing, i.e. looking for major powerline corridors and substations.

    And again – suppose they do that – do they then contact Dominion to get the connection or do they go to PJM who then tells Dominion to coordinate with the developers to get the connection?

    3. in terms of “impacts” that some folks keep alluding to… solar is no different than a lot of other impacts that you’ll find in most rural areas that have a wide variety of such “impacts” – not the least of which is thousands of acres of land that has sewage sludge applied to it. We also have miles ands miles of 250 and 115kv power lines with the attendant towers and substations… most of them on their way to feed NoVa… Cell towers also, now dot the countryside… Infrastructure including major interstates slice through the rural areas.

    All those “woods” that folks consider an integral part of the bucolic countryside – they are owned by folks who often do cut those trees when they are “ready” for market – those trees provide the things that folks in the cities (as well as rural) need. Ditto with poultry, hogs, cattle, etc.. again grown to serve the needs of city folk… so we provide their burgers and rotisserie chickens then we take their poop and spread in both fields and timberland.

    Solar is just another thing.. all things considered. if it is tucked away in the woods off a major road – city folks will never ever see it and most people in the rural areas won’t either or if they do – it’s really no different than a 250 kv powerline tower or substation…

    It takes a LOT of “impacts” to power and feed and rid cities of their pee and poop.. and for every nice “walkable” downtown – there is ton of rural that is taking impacts to support that cityscape… Rural folks are used to it .. it’s a typical and normal part of their landscape..

    I have a 69kv powerline corridor that crosses the road to my house a thousand feet or so away.. I drive under it every day on the way to/from my house:

    it goes to a substation that is 3 miles away. Near that substation is 5000 acres that they spread sewage sludge on.. and within a mile of that is 3000 acres that have just been clear cut.. and 8 miles from there is the North Anna Nuclear plant.

    • 1. I have maintained all along that Dominion has been neutral on this and the conventional wisdom was wrong! It’s not NC either, except in the sense that NC’s principal advantage, those State tax incentives for solar, has expired. Dominion in NC is the same Dominion in VA. Why else would solar take off in Dominion’s NC territory? The expansion of utility-scale solar into Virginia was inevitable. It’s our turn now. The new frontier is distributed-generation solar. That’s one area where VA tax incentives would make a big difference, as would more vigorous support from Dominion.

      2. Who do they contact? Dominion owns all the transmission and distribution wires and substations within its territory. But PJM operates those classified as transmission, and as a formal matter administers the connection process — although Dominion works with PJM to study requested interconnections and report back whether they can be made using existing facilities, or whether facilities have to be upgraded or modified in some way. Applicants go into a queue, and each interconnection is processed before the next one; eventually the capacity of a substation to add new generation or load is exhausted and the next applicant has to pay for an upgrade. The applicant — the solar generator — has to pay for all the interconnection upgrades required to deliver its increment of generation to the grid. Importantly, even if it’s Dominion’s generation subsidiary building the plant, it has to apply to PJM and pay Dominion’s transmission-owning unit (not sure if that is a separate subsidiary) through the PJM process to attach to the grid. That transaction is under FERC regulation and kept as transparent as possible, so that FERC and the independent generators can be sure that Dominion does not favor its own generation over independent generation.

      3. Not a question, but I agree with you.

  14. I found this interesting: ” Applicants go into a queue, and each interconnection is processed before the next one; eventually the capacity of a substation to add new generation or load is exhausted and the next applicant has to pay for an upgrade. The applicant — the solar generator — has to pay for all the interconnection upgrades required to deliver its increment of generation to the grid. ”

    all things being equal when it comes to expenses and profit – would-be solar might look for low-cost hookup-sites and avoid places where solar has already used up any “free” capacity.

    I’m not sure how any prospective solar developer would “know” what the various places are that are “hookup-able” or not.. but more than that if they had a certain big solar site in their plans – which locations were available and had enough capacity for “big” solar.

    But this also makes it sound like as long as a given substation has “capacity” that there is not a such thing as ‘too much” solar .. even though PJM has given a number for “too much” on it’s entire region. surely, for given parts of Dominions service area – there could be places where there would be “too much” solar.

    Finally – “distribution and generation”.

    take the proposed solar in Spotsylvania that is 10 miles from North Anna. North Anna puts out a non-varying 1900 MW or so.. (I think).. and the proposed solar in Spotsy is supposed to put out maybe 500 Mw.

    North Anna can’t modulate in response to a varying 500 MW input… but I’m not aware of any nearby Gas plant.. so how would Dominion handle such a large and varying input to the grid?

    If you think about it this way – that come nightfall.. the grid in that area experiences a 500 MW loss of generation.. how does Dominion serve that load if North Anna can only serve a static load?

    Obviously, despite all the dialogue here ..I’m STILL grossly ignorant on how the grid – transmission and distribution – handles loads… that vary…

    there must be an excess amount of generation.. some percent that is not serving any load but “ready” to do so… if needed…

    If a given ‘fixed output” generation source like Nuclear or coal has multiple turbines.. then even though they cannot ramp up or down as a plant – they could certainly just have the turbines continue to spin but not putting anything into the grid.. in other words “idle” but “hot” and just a flip of a switch connects that turbine back to the grid.

    That’s obviously a speculation from someone largely ignorant of the subject for which he speaks.. guilty as charged – but LONG BEFORE gas was in abundance and they mostly had base load generation.. isn’t that how they’d vary the output to be trying to match the load demand? Or is that something the substations do.. not let any more current into that load area than what that load area needs… and keeps any excess from over energizing the load that substation is serving?

    These are exceptionally messy details .. and I’ve probably got much of it not correct – but SOLAR is not “dispatchable” but even worse than that – it’s not even always “available” either… and that means that somewhere else on the grid – there has to be a complementary generation source ready to put into the grid at the point when solar is no longer able to generate.

    Have had this discussion before.. but head is hard..

    • Well, first of all, you are hardly “ignorant” of the basics here, but way beyond the average guy — and interested enough to ask the right questions.

      And you say, “all things being equal when it comes to expenses and profit – would-be solar might look for low-cost hookup-sites and avoid places where solar has already used up any “free” capacity.” EXACTLY! YOU GOT IT. That’s what they do. And Dominion and PJM both help them. Dominion examines the substation equipment: is that 34.5::230 kV transformer rated to take another 50 MW or do we need a bigger one or do we need a whole new transformer bay? Will the breakers handle the additional load, and does the current circuitry allow safe switching of the generator’s output without affecting customers served from the same sub? Etc etc. And PJM: not only does Dominion have to sign off but also PJM will study the grid impact of another 50MW injected at that location, what if it trips off suddenly, if a line goes out can the others handle it, etc. etc.. there are standards for answering these questions and both PJM and DOM have to agree. But: these questions and answers are not rocket science but standard electrical engineering, and anyone thinking of building a solar plant can guesstimate what the answers are likely to be at particular locations on the grid, and so the ones that don’t look too crowded or appear to have the capability without expensive rebuilds are the locations they explore first. And of course if the project is big enough, the cost of the “extension cord” to the grid becomes a relatively smaller consideration.

      Finally, you say, “there must be an excess amount of generation.. some percent that is not serving any load but “ready” to do so… if needed…” Yes, precisely. In general the grid generation requirement is, enough to handle the annual peak load plus around 15% (to cover possible outages), and at times other than the annual peak that should allow the system operator plenty of margin. And all that gen is of different types and PJM’s job is to match them up and run the cheapest combo, grid-wide, in each hour. Of course, solar gen which fades at sunset is just one of many operating considerations.

    • As for “they could certainly just have the turbines continue to spin but not putting anything into the grid.. in other words “idle” but “hot” and just a flip of a switch connects that turbine back to the grid.” An important technicality: a generator in ” spinning reserve” status as you describe is never disconnected but spins in synchronization with the grid. Alternating current is such that if the generator tries to lead the alternation, the generator picks up more load; conversely, if the generator tries to slow down the grid will even try to speed it up to keep it in synchronization. The plant operator knows how to adjust the steam pressure in the turbine spinning the generator so that it pulls ahead just enough to carry the right load. With solar there is nothing spinning, but the solar output is converted from DC to AC by an alternator device at the plant — same principles, different techniques.

      The problem with nuclear is, you can back the steam turbine down so it pulls less hard and carries less load, but then you’ve got all this extra steam with no way to use it. You can vent that off into the atmosphere in an emergency. But as a planned operation, you just can’t back nuclear down, you have to keep on using that steam to do some work, or shut the source of the steam — the reactor — down too.

  15. This is what I expect to see in real science. A study that challenges a conclusion from earlier studies. Note, the study is not challenging the premise of climate change or suggesting we do nothing to control carbon emissions. Rather, it takes issue with the validity of the “best” and “worst” case estimates.
    https://www.afp.com/en/news/2265/worst-case-global-warming-scenarios-not-credible-study-doc-wx0de1

    But I guess one can get more money and political power by sticking to the old estimates.

Leave a Reply