Dominion to triple its installed solar in 2017

Yet another Southern power company is going into solar whole hog. Last week Dominion Energy revealed in its Q3 results call that it expects to install 457 MW-DC of solar this year, which will roughly triple its installed capacity.

This includes 288 MW-DC of projects which the company expects to bring online by the end of the year, and Dominion notes that that it has modules secured for all of these projects. With tariffs, quotas and even possibly a minimum price on imported modules hanging over the head of the U.S. solar industry through the Section 201 process, this is a critical consideration.

Dominion expects to put another 200 MW-DC of solar online in 2018, and estimates that its total already built and under development totals 1.66 GW-DC in nine states.

Nearly all of the solar capacity that the company is putting online this year is in Virginia, with a small portion of its projects underway and those already in service in North Carolina. 180 MW-AC of projects that Dominion is building to power Amazon Web Services facilities makes up the majority of the capacity planned by the end of the year, and this will add to the 80 MW-AC that Dominion has already brought online with Amazon.

Like many large technology companies Amazon has a mandate to supply its operations with 100% renewable energy, and these companies have often been able to get utilities who are otherwise less interested in renewable energy to build projects to supply their operations.

Aside from the Amazon projects is unclear how much of the solar that Dominion is building is in the service areas of its subsidiary Dominion Virginia Power, which covers Eastern Virginia and parts of North Carolina. However, it is unusual for large power companies to build most of their solar in their own service area, instead of the service areas of other utilities. This may mark a shift wherein utilities including Dominion are increasingly seeing the value of utility-scale solar to their retail distribution business.

The solar that Dominion is building is also rapidly increasing the total installed in Virginia, which has been a second-tier state for solar development. Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) estimates that the state had only 261 MW-DC installed at the end of 2016, with nearly 3/4 of that capacity coming online during the year.

As is also the case in the much larger solar market in neighboring North Carolina, utility-scale solar makes up nearly all of Virginia’s installed capacity. Virginia has a net metering policy, however participants must pay utility-specific “standby charges”, and the state’s distributed generation market remains small.