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Appalachian Power seeks bids for solar energy projects

Appalachian Power seeks bids for solar energy projects

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Appalachian Power Co. is shopping for solar energy.

The utility recently issued a request for proposals for large-scale projects as it looks to add up to 200 megawatts of solar power to its energy generation mix, which for years has been heavily dependent on coal-burning power plants.

After considering the bids, Appalachian will decide whether to purchase one or more solar panel facilities.

“We have been seeking to add large-scale solar projects to Appalachian Power’s generation portfolio for several years so all customers can benefit from cleaner energy resources,” President and Chief Operating Officer Chris Beam said in a news release.

“Solar development costs continue to decline, and we are hopeful that this RFP process will result in one or more projects.”

If a deal is struck, it will mark the first time Appalachian has owned a solar generation facility.

The utility made its initial venture into industrial-scale solar power last year, when it agreed to purchase electricity from Coronal Energy.

The California-based company plans to build and operate the 15-megawatt Depot Solar Center in Campbell County. The facility could go online as early as next year.

Although Appalachian is committed to renewable energy, the transition has been gradual.

“We’re going to have coal for a number of years ahead,” company spokesman John Shepelwich said.

Appalachian currently gets about 60 percent of its power from coal-burning plants. Another 19 percent comes from natural gas, 11 percent from hydroelectric and 7 percent from wind turbines.

Nearly 1,000 of the utility’s 500,000-plus Virginia customers have solar panels at their homes or businesses, but the output is too small to be counted as part of the generation mix.

To be considered by Appalachian, proposed solar projects must be in Virginia, capable of producing at least 50 megawatts, and interconnected with the PJM, a regional transmission hub that manages the electric grid in 13 states and the District of Columbia.

Earlier this year, the General Assembly approved an overhaul of regulations for Virginia’s two large electric utilities, Appalachian and Dominion Energy, that ended a freeze on rates, allowed for customer refunds and called for steps toward grid modernization, renewable energy and efficiency programs.

Among other things, the law requires Appalachian to construct or acquire solar generation projects capable of producing at least 200 megawatts by July 1, 2028.

Businesses interested in submitting bids can access criteria, required forms and other specifics online at www.appalachianpower.com/rfp. Proposals must be submitted by Feb. 7, 2019.

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Laurence Hammack covers environmental issues, including the Mountain Valley Pipeline, and business and enterprise stories. He has been a reporter for The Roanoke Times for more than three decades.

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