The Virginia Electric and Power Co. last year awarded $1.4 million in research contracts as part of a continuing alternative energy study.

The company said it has contracted with seven research groups to evaluate a variety of alternate energy options that the utility might use to meet or reduce anticipated growth in electric power demand.

The contracts are part of a major evaluation announced in 1981 by Vepco President William W. Berry. The study is expected to be complete in 1985 at a total cost of about $4 million. he study will look at technologies such as solar photovoltaics, coal gasification, wind turbines and fuel cells, as well as determining what role might be played by conservation, loan management, cogeneration and the use of small-scale hydropower projects, wood, peat and municipal solid waste to generate power.

Various options will be compared with each other and conventional power-generating practices, Vepco said.

Critics of the utility industry have faulted industrial planners for ignoring tools such as conservation and the use of unconventional technologies in planning for the future. The result has been overbuilding of conventional power plants, according to the critics.

Vepco, which recently announced the cancellation of construction of a nuclear-powered generating unit at North Anna, has planned for no new capacity since 1974, according to company officials.

The contracts awarded include a contract with Dames & Moore of Washington to assess the potential for industrial cogeneration (where an industry produces part of its own generation needs or more and is able to sell excess power back to the utility company); a contract with Synergic Resources Inc. of Bala Cynwyd, Pa., to study the effectiveness of additional insulation, other conservation measures and solar energy, and a contract with Research Triangle Institute of North Carolina to analyze using solar photovoltaic cells or peat as a potential power sources.

Gilbert Associates Inc. of Reading, Pa., received two contracts. One contract was to study wind power, and the other was to analyze the potential of fuel-cell generation. epco also awarded a contract to Stearns-Roger Inc. of Denver to study coal gasification and combined cycle systems; a contract to the Mitre Corp. of McLean to study the feasibility of using wood to supplement fossil fuels in the generation of electricity, and a contract to Gershman, Brickner and Bratton Inc. of Washington to study using municipal solid waste for power generation.