A solar energy company is splitting up a solar farm project on Irish Road into two parts to reduce the amount of time it would take for the state to review it.

From a technical standpoint, that means the planned 10-megawatt Whitmell solar project in Pittsylvania County is now splitting into two 5-megawatt projects, instead.

The solar farms would be at 7480 Irish Road and cover nearly 100 acres altogether.

For a frame of reference, a megawatt powers about 100 to 150 homes. The two projects would combine with the planned 6-megawatt Ringgold solar project — intended for construction at the now active Ringgold Golf Course — to supplement the power needs for Danville.

Together, the Whitmell and Ringgold solar projects would generate a total of about 50,000 megawatt-hours per year — enough to power about 2,500 homes annually.

The city recently terminated the initial purchase-power agreement with Denver-based TurningPoint Energy in order to separate the Whitmell project into two parts to meet requirements by the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality.

TurningPoint President Jared Schoch told the Danville Register & Bee on Monday the company wanted to streamline its contracts with the city. The company already had two 5-megawatt interconnection agreements for the Whitmell project originally — outlining how TurningPoint would connect its solar power plant to Danville Utilities’ electric distribution system, he said.

“We wanted to make the purchase-power agreements match for consistency,” Schoch said of the company’s request to terminate the purchase-power agreement.

The change will enable Turning Point to undergo a shorter review process by the VDEQ for the two projects instead of a much longer review that would be required for a 10-megawatt solar project, said Danville Utilities Director Jason Grey.

“VDEQ’s criteria requires a detailed project review for solar farms larger than five megawatts,” Grey wrote in a letter to Danville City Council last month.

Turning Point’s Whitmell smaller projects will be named TPE Irish Road Solar, LLC, and Whitmell Solar, LLC.

All three projects are expected to be operational by May 2020, Grey said. They would be in Danville Utilities’ service territory. The city would not be responsible for any upfront capital costs or maintenance at the facilities.

To take advantage of a 30-percent federal investment tax credit, the Irish Road projects would need to be under construction by the end of this year, Grey said. City staff had evaluated about a dozen possible solutions for 2021 power replacement needs when a contract providing about 17 percent of Danville Utilities’ energy expires Dec. 31, 2020.

“Several solar and natural gas responses were considered compared to current and forecasted market prices,” Grey wrote to City Council. “Solar generation was the lowest-cost solution, mainly due to the federal investment tax credits private developers can leverage.”

The projects would enable the city to generate power locally without paying for coal or natural gas or having to transport it across the grid, Grey said.

If the Irish Road projects are permitted and approved, Danville would enter into a 25-year purchase power agreement with TurningPoint Energy for the two projects.

“The project is a great renewable resource,” said City Manager Ken Larking. “It’s also a cheap alternative. It’s affordable, it will be on our grid … It will end up saving our ratepayers money by having this project online.”

In addition, the 76-acre Kentuck solar farm, located at 2048 Kentuck Church Road, is contracted to sell all the megawatts it produces to Danville Utilities for the next 25 years. It began operating in March 2018 and accounts for about 1.5 percent of the city’s power.

TurningPoint operates the Kentuck solar farm. That solar project plus the ones on Irish Road and in Ringgold would cover about 7 to 8 percent of the city’s power needs once the contract with Morgan Stanley runs out in 2020, Grey said. Remaining power needs from that expired agreement would be covered by the city buying power from the market, he said.

That 17 percent of the city’s power coming from Morgan Stanley is being billed at about $63 per megawatt-hour. Once the contract expires and that power comes from solar and the open market, that cost should fall by nearly half to about $35 per megawatt-hour, Grey said.

John Crane reports for the Danville Register & Bee. Contact him at jcrane@registerbee.com or (434) 791-7987.


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