A new local government playbook will help communities in southwest Virginia develop large solar energy projects, harnessing the area’s widespread and largely untapped solar development potential.
The report, “Solar Development At A Scale: A Game Book For Southwest Virginia” will guide local and county governments that seek to promote large solar projects in their communities and open new opportunities for economic expansion and job growth. Southwest Virginia, a region with a long history of coal mining, is poised for the expansion of solar energy. Several large projects are already running.
This game book was written by The Solar Foundation in association with the Solar Workgroup in Southwest Virginia. Funding came through the national SolSmart program, which helped over 380 local governments remove barriers to solar growth. Other partners include the Virginia Department of Mines, Minerals and Energy (DMME) and the University of Virginia Weldon Cooper Center for Public Service (UVA). The playbook was created as part of a wider effort funded by GO Virginias Region One.
“The Solar Playbook we have developed is invaluable,” said Ernie McFadden, chairman of the Russell County Industrial Development Authority. “Southwest Virginia has a long history in the energy sector and we are confident that solar energy will play an important role in the future. Working with great partners such as the Solar Workgroup, SolSmart and The Solar Foundation, we hope to use our assets to build a significant solar presence in southwest Virginia. “
The game book provides detailed, step-by-step instructions on how to fund utility projects or commercial solar projects in Virginia. It provides guidance on how to involve stakeholders. Identify and solve obstacles; Review of development proposals; and adopt local planning and zoning regulations to facilitate solar energy. It also provides an overview of the state and local approval process for solar projects, as well as information on local tax revenue options, funding incentives, and solar energy on fallow land and previously mined land. The full game book can be found at https://swvasolar.org/swva-solar-playbook/.
“The Solar Workgroup was formed to fuel a locally rooted solar industry in southwest Virginia and catalyze economic benefits,” said Adam Wells, regional director of community and economic development for Appalachian Voices, project leader and co-organizer of the Solar Workgroup. “This tool is helping to maximize the local economic and social impact of solar energy on a large scale, and to ensure that the coming wave of solar development benefits our communities as much as possible. We thank GO Virginia for funding the overall project and The Solar Foundation for their incredible work and investment in creating this particular resource. “
Virginia is poised for very rapid solar energy growth after the passage of several new state laws in 2020, including the Virginia Clean Economy Act, which sets new mandates for clean energy development. Other new laws provide new opportunities for local governments to enter into agreements with solar developers that will generate additional tax revenue or fund key community priorities such as broadband development.
“DMME is diligently working on clean energy in Virginia across the Commonwealth, and southwest Virginia is an untapped market for increased renewable energy presence,” said DMME Director John Warren. “Our agency has been working with operators of coal, natural gas and mineral mining in the region for decades. We need to bring assets to the table to ensure that there is widespread use of solar power here. “
A number of large solar energy projects are under development in Southwest Virginia, including a 3.0 MW project on abandoned mine land that will power the Mineral Gap data center in Wise County. The Solar Workgroup recently announced a new industry partnership aimed at installing 12MW of commercial solar power in the region by 2023 while creating new employment and training opportunities.
“We are very proud to introduce this game book as the newest tool in our SolSmart program to help local governments remove barriers to solar growth,” said Ed Gilliland, senior director at The Solar Foundation and co-author of the report . “Southwest Virginia is a promising region for solar development and we hope this game book will be a useful tool in helping cities and counties seize this tremendous economic opportunity.”
SolSmart is a national program led by the Solar Foundation and the International City / County Management Association and funded by the US Department of Energy’s Office for Solar Energy Technologies. The program provides free technical assistance to help cities, counties, and small towns earn the national award for promoting the growth of the solar market.
In Virginia, DMME and the UVA Weldon Cooper Center for Public Service serve as SolSmart Advisor organizations for communities across the state. Any municipality or county is eligible to join SolSmart and receive free technical assistance to achieve the nomination. For more information for communities in Virginia, visit https://dmme.virginia.gov/en/solsmart.shtml.
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