Dominion Energy’s Whitehouse solar farm in Louisa County generates 20 megawatts on a 250 acre site. The Virginia Department of Environmental Quality is imposing more stringent stormwater regulations for solar development. (Dominion Energy)
Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, Virginia topped almost other states in solar installations in 2020, ranking fourth behind only California, Texas and Florida.
According to findings from the analysis released Tuesday by the Solar Energy Industries Association and energy consultancy Wood Mackenzie, more than 1.4 gigawatts of solar were installed in Virginia last year. For comparison, that’s slightly more output than Dominion Energy’s gas-fired Brunswick Power Station, which began service in April 2016 and powers approximately 340,000 homes.
Virginia’s ranking jumped 15 places in the Wood Mackenzie/SEIA analysis between 2019 and 2020, with installations increasing by a factor of more than 10.
Most of the state’s solar growth — just over 1.3 gigawatts of capacity — came from large-scale solar farms.
“Virginia saw incredible growth in the utility-scale sector in 2020, which accounted for the majority of its new capacity additions last year,” said Will Giese, SEIA’s Southeast policy lead, in an email. “Corporate procurement was a major driver of that growth.”
Giese said it was “a bit too early” to see the effects of the Virginia Clean Economy Act, a landmark piece of environmental legislation committing the state to a carbon-free electric grid by 2050 that passed the General Assembly in 2020.
However, he added, “Virginia is projected to see similarly strong growth in its solar market over the next decade.”
Solar has been on the rise nationwide, especially as concerns about climate change increase. In 2019, the United States consumed more energy from renewables than it did from coal for the first time in more than 130 years. Tuesday’s Wood Mackenzie/SEIA report forecast that “the next decade will see the total operating solar fleet more than quadruple.” By 2030, said SEIA president and CEO Abigail Ross Hopper in a press release, “the equivalent of one in eight American homes will have solar.”
Earlier this year the U.S. Energy Information Administration projected that together, wind and solar will account for more than two-thirds of all new electricity generation added in 2021.
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