Dulles International Airport, located just outside the nation’s capital, will shortly host the largest renewable energy project ever constructed at a U.S. airport: a solar array of 200,000 panels will be installed near the runways. Dominion Energy and the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority broke ground on the 835-acre project on Tuesday. Dominion seeks to comply with a state statute mandating that 100% of its non-nuclear energy production be emission-free by 2045 by adding 16,000 megawatts of solar capacity by 2035, enough to power 4 million households. Residents of Virginia’s rural counties, however, oppose the expansion of solar energy due to the loss of agriculture, ruined viewsheds, and construction pollution. Henry, Pittsylvania, Clarke, and Shenandoah counties have all taken measures to restrict or regulate new solar initiatives in recent months. Clarke County supervisor Bev McKay stated that it is unfair that rural counties endure the burden of hosting solar farms. During a Board of Supervisors meeting last month, he stated, “Urban areas are huge consumers of electricity, and there is no reason why they cannot generate their share of solar energy instead of relying on rural areas to do so,” according to the meeting minutes.
Debates Surrounding Rising Energy Costs and Renewable Energy Laws in Virginia
Others object to the price increases. Dominion and the State Corporation Commission estimate a 72% increase in electricity prices between 2020 and 2035. In addition, Governor Glenn Youngkin has proposed reevaluating the law requiring the production of renewable energy. At the groundbreaking ceremony on Tuesday, U.S. Sen. Mark Warner, D-Virginia, lauded local leaders for completing the Dulles project and spoke about the necessity of building such projects. However, he admitted in an interview that his office is receiving an increasing number of complaints about solar farms, and he stated that solar projects are only a portion of the solution to meeting energy requirements in a sustainable manner. “This is an issue that will not go away, so there is no single solution,” he stated.
According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, Virginia is one of 10 states and the District of Columbia that mandates 100% sustainable or renewable energy production with deadlines ranging from 2030 to 2050. However, solar energy is not the only element of the state’s plan. The law of Virginia permits, for instance, Dominion to include nuclear energy in its portfolio. The Dulles project adds 100 megawatts of solar power generation and 50 megawatts of battery storage, enough to power about 37,000 homes. It is anticipated that 300 employment will be created and the project will be completed by 2026.
Dominion’s Ambitious Solar Energy Expansion Plans in Virginia
Dominion reports that it has already deployed approximately 2,000 megawatts of solar energy. It has another 7,000 megawatts in various phases of development, including the Dulles facility. Therefore, Dominion will need to locate dozens of additional locations across the state in the future years in order to reach its 16,000 megawatt goal. Edward Baine, president of Dominion Energy Virginia, stated that the company collaborates closely with local administrations to ensure the viability of proposed initiatives. As an illustration, he stated that some of the earliest initiatives lacked vegetative buffers to reduce the visual impact. This type of buffer is now standard.
“We want to make sure those counties are satisfied” with the way the initiatives are developed, he said. However, for the Dulles initiative, its visibility is an asset, not a defect. Officials cited the symbolic significance of an enormous solar project that will be visible from the airport, the region’s international transportation center.
Jeff McKay, chairman of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors, stated, “The image that they will now see when they look out the window upon landing and see the solar panels that have been installed at this airport is exactly the type of forward image we want the world to see.”