Solar Mega-Project Proposed for Pulaski County

by James A. Bacon

Developers of solar energy projects in Virginia often encounter resistance from rural communities where residents worry about the impact of vast solar farms on viewsheds, the tax base and the rural way of life. In Pulaski County, Hecate Energy LLC is dangling a new incentive to make its project palatable — the chance to attract lucrative data centers.

Hecate has proposed investing $400 million in a 280-megawatt solar project in three phases on 2,700 acres of land near the Town of Dublin, reports the [Pulaski County] Patriot. Hecate would pay leases to landowners, who currently use the land for low-value pasture and hayfields. The project is anticipated to generate $392,000 annually in added county tax revenue for a total of $13.7 million over the 35-year life of the project. As a bonus, the project would create 130 jobs during the construction phase. The new sweetener, never mentioned in press accounts of other solar projects I’ve seen, is the chance to vie for data-center projects.

“Approval of this project instantly makes Pulaski a player in the high-stakes game of Data Center recruitment,” said Hecate spokesman Jay Poole. “Companies which build Data Centers and other high-tech companies which demand sufficient quantities of renewable energy, go to places which make renewable energy more available.”

Hecate said that protecting the viewshed is a high priority. Steps will be taken to preserve large planted trees and native grasses, and solar panels themselves will be hidden from view to the greatest extent possible. All electricity will flow through underground cables to the Appalachian Power Co. electric grid.

Chicago-based Hecate, one of the nation’s largest solar developers, is working through its Virginia affiliate, AgriSunPower.

Under the Virginia Clean Energy Act, Appalachian Power Co., which serves western Virginia including Pulaski County, is required to produce zero carbon emissions from its generating fleet by 2050. The company has announced its intention to acquire 210 megawatts of solar power and 200 megawatts of wind power over the next five years.

Hecate’s project, if approved, would meet more than Apco’s entire projected demand. Presumably, the project would generate sufficient electricity to supply a power-hungry data center should one be recruited. Major providers of cloud services have committed to using renewable energy. But solar projects are rarely co-located with the data centers. When Amazon, Facebook, Microsoft purchase green energy, the electricity from solar farms flows into the electric grid where electrons co-mingle with electricity from other sources. For Pulaski County to compete for a data-center project, it would require access to a fiber-optic trunk line… which it does not now possess.

Fiber funded by the Tobacco Region Revitalization Commission in Southwest Virginia extends no farther than neighboring Wythe County. However, Pulaski officials are working to upgrade their broadband capacity as seen in the county’s broadband strategic plan.

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18 responses to “Solar Mega-Project Proposed for Pulaski County

  1. Amazon has quite a presence on Virginia’s Eastern Shore with its solar farms. Have they built a lot of data centers there?

    Virginia generates a ton of electricity at the North Anna nuclear complex. Are there a lot of data centers in the immediate vicinity of the nuke plants?

    • They paved paradise and put up — a forest of solar panels filled with toxic substances mined by children…..I’m sorry, at some point Virginians are going to see what is going on here. This isn’t even part of the Dominion solar explosion that will cover an area larger than Fairfax Co.

      No DJ, no virtue signal points for using nuclear, just the opposite. Of course on dark and rainy days, nice to have…..

      • Cheap electricity is a key point in datacenter location. Being close to the source of the electricity is not. Hecate is playing fast and loose with reality in my opinion.

        Datacenter operators claim as a goal that they they will generate as much clean energy as their datacenters consume. They do not claim that the generated clean energy will be the actual electrons used to power the datacenters.

        • Actually, I don’t think it is “cheap” electricity as much as it is non-fossil-fuel and it may actually cost more but solar is what they want.

          • It’s even cheaper when you can save money on LED lighting by being able to glow in the dark.

            Silver people on the shoreline leave us be…

          • No, it is cheap. If they wanted clean they would be building in Oregon, Washington, Idaho and other states with long time considerable hydroelectric generating capability.

            They do want to be net zero with the electricity they consume. So, they build solar farms to offset the carbon that is generated creating the actual electrons they consume.

          • Reed Fawell 3rd

            “The Hecate Energy claims about attracting data centers to Pulaski sound like BS to me.”

            My thoughts exactly, having practiced law (commercial real estate), and been a commercial real estate developer as well.

        • “Cheap electricity is a key point in datacenter location.” So what drives cheap electricity at a datacenter location? And how does that relate to a rural locality like Pulaski? I have an idea, but respect your opinions. I have enjoyed reading your comments since I first heard the term “Imperial Clown Show” years ago, of which I am now proud to say I am recovering from being part of said show. I have also been a planning commissioner in my locality for quite some time, and we are now facing our own solar facility assaults. I am trying to understand all sides of the arguments. Thanks.

          • Thank you. I hope you become an active commenter on this blog now that you are done with the GA. We’re always looking for new writers. The pay is great … nothing! But no tax liability either.

            A solar farm in Pulaski won’t drive data centers to Pulaski. That’s my point. The solar farm in Pulaski might be a good idea for Pulaski but it won’t make electricity cheaper in Pulaski. At least no cheaper than it helps make electricity across the state. The Hecate Energy claims about attracting data centers to Pulaski sound like BS to me. The electricity from the solar farm goes into the grid as does electricity from many other sources. Datacenters take their electricity from the grid. The only way the solar farm in Pulaski could attract datacenters to Pulaski would be if the solar farm was directly connected to the data centers (and if that electricity were cheaper than could be bought off the grid). If that’s the plan – fine. But it isn’t. Nobody builds a 2,700 acre solar farm hoping that some datacenters might come along and use the electricity.

            Since data centers are 7X24X365 operations there would be a need for additional electricity when it is dark or cloudy, etc.

            If Pulaski wants to attract data center like Loudon has done for years it needs power and pipe. I see no reason why Pulaski’s power is different than Loudoun’s but the “pipe” or network is almost certainly inferior. Loudoun is on top of one of the original internet peering points and wired to the gills. Loudoun’s government also made zoning for data centers very easy and built trenches throughout the eastern side of the county so that conduit could be put down in the expectation of network and power cables being pulled in the future. There is also now a cottage industry of people who know how to design and build data centers.

      • I didn’t know. Here, VFTNX.

        Tough to do with a dinosaur, but in 1,000,000 years maybe they’ll use us. Next best thing.

    • Yeah, hard to believe considering that The Virginia Center for Intellectual Excellence is located right there next to Tyson’s. Not the Corner, the chicken packing plant.

  2. This projects looks to be half the size of the one being built in Spotsylvania which is by the way about5-10 miles from North Anna!

    Here we are bitchin and complaining about EVs and where they might get their electricity and here’s another solar farm to do it – but no pleasing folks, eh?

    • They’re dinosaurs and they feel useful when people talk about using hydrocarbons.

    • I have a 9 year old truck and a 12 year old sedan. I’d love to own an EV. Their 0-60 times are scary fast! But I don’t like the idea of limited distance on a charge. That will get better and I’ll keep my old vehicles until an EV meets my needs.

      • “DETROIT (AP) — General Motors said a pending breakthrough in battery chemistry will cut the price of its electric vehicles so they equal those powered by gasoline within five years. The technology also will increase the range per charge to as much as 450 miles.”

        • Hardly a day goes by without someone saying a new battery R&D breakthru will finally allow electric vehicles to make practical sense without enormous subsidies and mandates to force sales. The first such infamous claim was like 1876 and Edison said “give me a break” or equivalent words.

  3. James Wyatt Whitehead V

    Careful with that hidden view. Could block needed sunshine.

  4. What makes more sense in Virginia- growing marijuana in the old tobacco fields, or solar panels in those fields? Do we think Old Dominion Pot competes with NorCal quality stuff?

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