By Linda Fausz
Driving down Bermuda Hundred Road, whether you work at Philip Morris Park 500 or on your way to visit Presquile Island, you cannot help but catch sight of an impressive solar energy site on property owned by Philip Morris USA. The solar energy facility is not owned by Philip Morris, but is a long-term lease partnership with Dominion Virginia Power and Dominion’s Solar Partnership Program.
Dominion Virginia Power and Philip Morris USA invited media to tour the large-scale ground-mounted solar panel system that is now producing two megawatts-AC (2,000 KW) of energy at peak output, enough to power about 500 homes.
Dominion’s project manager, Mike Gurganus, for the 11-acre site with 8,000 panels said their new technology arm for solar energy has been in development for five years. Under the Solar Partnership Program, Dominion will construct and operate up to 30 megawatts of company-owned solar facilities by the end of the year on leased rooftops or on the grounds of commercial businesses and public properties throughout the company’s Virginia service areas. Fully implemented, the program could generate enough power for up to 7,500 homes. So far, this site is the largest in Virginia. Chester’s Capital One location is also participating in the partnership program with panels installed on their rooftop producing 500 kilowatts at peak capacity to power up 125 homes.
“It is an ongoing understanding of what solar energy’s impact will be on our grids,” he said. “We will have 10 sites by the end of the year.”
According to Gurganus, each panel produces 310 megawatts. “Four panels will power-up a 1,000-watt hairdryer,” he said.
The wattage collected (direct current) from the panels is fed through a cable underground to an interconnector area, also on site. The invertors convert the direct current to 500 kilowatts alternating current which is then delivered to the local distribution line going out into the community. There are four invertors on site.
Rich LaVine, consulting electrical engineer on the project, said the two megawatts collected serves all the customers and small businesses and some more on the Enon circuit.
The $4.9 million project was started in late 2015 and completed in early 2016. The solar systems are expected to remain in place for approximately 20 years.
The Solar Partnership Program was designed to expand Dominion’s understanding of community-based solar energy by studying its impact and assessing its benefits. The project allows them to gain knowledge and experience in operating solar distributed generation. They will be able to identify optimal sites to understand how solar energy will integrate with their distribution system;encourage and support the growth of solar energy in Virginia; and partner with interested customers in utility-owned generation projects.
Shaun Reilly, with Dominion’s New Technology program, handles all commercial accounts with interest in solar. He said he has 75 to 100 applications on his desk for solar projects withdesk for solar projects with five megawatts and above. The applications are outside of the Solar Partnership Program.Under development are three sites in Virginia with moveable panels to be located in Powhatan, Isle of Wright and Louisa. The site in Powhatan is being constructed on 160 acres and when completed will collect 17 megawatts of solar energy.