The Bulletin

Power supplier for Virginia electric co-ops building five new solar projects

By: - October 26, 2022 12:02 am

Dominion Energy’s Scott Solar facility in Powhatan County, Va. (Sarah Vogelsong / Virginia Mercury)

In its effort to reach net-zero carbon emissions by 2050, Old Dominion Electric Cooperative is constructing five new solar projects, four of which will be in Virginia, that will generate 22.5 megawatts of power.

ODEC, a nonprofit power generation and transmission provider for nine electric cooperatives in Virginia, one in Maryland and one in Delaware, will construct all five projects through power purchase agreements with EDF Renewables.

The projects will produce 2.8 megawatts in Pittsylvania County for Mecklenburg Electric Cooperative, 4.2 megawatts in Shenandoah County for Shenandoah Valley Electric Cooperative, 3.2 megawatts in Rockbridge County for BARC Electric Cooperative and 6.5 megawatts in Richmond County for Northern Neck Electric Cooperative. The fifth project will generate 5.8 megawatts in Delaware’s Sussex County with Delaware Electric Cooperative.

The Pittsylvania project is expected to be built this year, with the others completed in the first quarter of 2023. 

The projects come after ODEC announced in early 2020 that it aims to achieve net-zero carbon emissions by 2050, with an interim goal of reducing emissions from 2005 levels by 50% by 2030. The company also set a goal in 2019 to develop solar projects with each of its member cooperatives.

Despite not being subject to renewables mandates in the Virginia Clean Economy Act, ODEC president and CEO Marcus Harris said the cooperative sees “solar and renewables as sort of the next generation” for creating power.

The company currently serves about 450,000 customers in Virginia, which constitutes roughly three-quarters of co-op customers in the state, according to Kirk Johnson, senior vice president of member engagement. 

ODEC’s 3,000-megawatt portfolio includes two utility-scale, or larger, solar purchase power agreements for 20 megawatts from a site in Northampton County and 10 megawatts from a Clarke County site, which generate power for all of ODEC’s grid.

About 270 megawatts of ODEC’s power are also generated from wind in Pennsylvania. Through agreements with Dominion Energy to source power from its North Anna station, nuclear constituted 14% of ODEC’s generation in 2021.

The portfolio also includes natural gas from a combined cycle plant constructed in Maryland in 2018 and the Clover coal plant in Halifax County. Those facilities provide reliable baseload power as the cooperative develops intermittent renewable sources and battery storage, Harris said. 

Fossil fuel generation is “available when we need it,” said Harris, noting the Clover plant provided 4% of the company’s power last year.

Johnson declined to provide details on the costs of the energy from the new solar projects but said the deals for them were made prior to recent price increases across the economy, and are locked in for 20 years.

“It’s fair to say that, compared to today’s general wholesale market rate for energy, that this will be a savings compared to what the market can provide today for our members,” Johnson said.

The projects are being constructed despite general pushback against solar from rural communities across the state concerned about the conversion of agricultural land and viewshed disturbances, Harris noted.

“I think one of the beauties of these smaller projects is they’re just a little more acceptable than a really large project,” Harris said. “We want our members to be pleased.”

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Charlie Paullin
Charlie Paullin

Charles Paullin covers energy and environment for the Mercury. He previously worked for Northern Virginia Daily in the Northern Shenandoah Valley and for the New Britain Herald in central Connecticut. An Alexandria native, Charles graduated from the University of Hartford initially wanting to cover sports. He's received several Virginia Press Association awards for his coverage of crime, local government and state politics.