Bringing solar to the heart of coal country

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In the heart of Virginia’s coal country, one organization, the Solar Workgroup of Southwest Virginia is seeking to make a change and create a renewable energy industry cluster deep in fossil fuel territory.

In pursuit of this goal, the organization, which covers Buchanan, Dickenson, Lee, Russell, Scott, Tazewell and Wise counties, has released a request for qualifications (RFQ), seeking a solar co-development partner to help bring commercial-scale solar projects to the area.

The group was able to develop this RFQ thanks to the passage of two key pieces of legislation in Virginia this spring: the Solar Freedom Act and  the Virginia Clean Economy Act. In short, these laws require Appalachian Power and Old Dominion Power to expand their net metering caps from 1% to 6%, the opening of power purchase agreements (PPA) to non-residential and low-income customers for Appalachian Power and the requirement that Old Dominion must offer all multi-family residential customers a community solar program.

Both Appalachian Power and Old Dominion’s PPA programs are limited to 40 MW.

In addition, the group has previously led two commercial-scale group purchase programs and a related Request for Information, both of which gave the group the knowledge and experience necessary to take this next step.

The group hopes to install more than 10 MW of commercial-scale solar installations by 2023 in the coalfield region, create 15 new full-time solar-related jobs in, both in construction and non-construction, create new opportunities for entrepreneurship and small business development and install at least one school or municipal project in each of the seven coalfield counties.

The RFQ goes beyond just developing solar projects, as the group has laid out a series of key goals that, if accomplished, will lead to a healthy solar energy sector in the seven-county region.

  1. Identify and develop sites that are ideal for solar development, especially solar “ambassador” projects.
  2. Grow workforce development and entrepreneurship opportunities to advance solar projects and maximize local benefits.
  3. Expand education and outreach in communities and with local leaders around solar benefits and opportunities.
  4. Promote policy changes that will help grow the solar industry in Southwest Virginia.

Any interested party with questions regarding the RFQ should submit them by June 24. The workgroup will host an optional pre-submittal call for further information on June 30. Final responses to the RFQ are due July 15. A more detailed timeline and all necessary documents are available on the group’s RFQ page.