When it comes to the pursuit of solar energy, Virginia shines bright. The state ranked 5th nationwide for new solar installations this year. This is thanks to a slew of ambitious projects aiming to supercharge renewable energy production. While these efforts are happening all over the state, a recent co-op initiative by Charlottesville non-profit LEAP, puts the focus on the Central Virginia and Shenandoah Valley regions. Both areas are hotspots for solar cooperatives, a main driver of solar installations in the state.
Solar cooperatives are alliances formed by homeowners all looking to have solar panels installed in a particular area. The co-ops are also called “Solarize” programs, as is the case with LEAP’s Solarize Virginia initiative. Most often, a non-profit organization serves as the focal point of the co-op. They negotiate a bulk purchase of required solar installation equipment from a vendor for a reduced price. The cost is then distributed within the co-op, ultimately allowing members to score a full installation for a lower price than they could get buying on their own.
Co-ops have been a notable driver of home installations in the Shenandoah Valley in particular. The Solar United Neighbors of Virginia, another non-profit co-op organizer, once described the area as “the epicenter” of their success. In Central Virginia, Charlottesville is ranked 7th in the state for solar energy use, demonstrating the practical success of the co-op approach. Yet, discounting solar panels for homes is not the only way that organizations in the region are increasing solar power adoption. Solar farms are also an option.
Not everyone can install solar panels on their home or property, but that doesn’t mean they can’t utilize green power for their homes. Solar farms make it possible. These installations can consist of hundreds or even thousands of ground-mounted solar panels. These panels “farm” sunlight, and send their harvest directly to the power grid. Essentially green power plants, solar farms are usually built by energy utilities. They are a crucial part of the transition away from fossil fuel reliance.
The Shenandoah Valley Electric Cooperative is fully aware of this. Their proposed Community Solar Project aims to construct such farms across the state, beginning in the Shenandoah Valley, in the city of Mt. Jackson. Each farm will produce enough power for 570 homes. Mt. Jackson’s most recent survey results reported 667 households, so a single farm is nearly enough to power the entire city. Crucially, solar farms allow access to clean energy without the hefty price tag of home installation, ensuring the green revolution in the region remains inclusive.
Virginia has a stated commitment to achieve 100% clean energy usage by 2050. Such an ambitious goal can only be achieved through a statewide, concerted effort. It will be necessary to leverage not only solar power, but other carbon free energy sources as well. But, solar farms and co-ops represent regional enterprise and determination to meet the challenge. It’s clear that Central Virginia and the Shenandoah Valley are doing their part, and, with a variety of projects in development, will continue to do so.
Story by Jennifer Ennis