RICHMOND — Gov. Terry McAuliffe announced Monday that Virginia must use solar energy to help power state government.
As a way to jump start the solar industry in the commonwealth, McAuliffe said state office buildings will derive 8 percent of their energy from solar sources in the next three years.
The utility giant Dominion Virginia Power will generate 75 percent of the solar energy, some of which will come from panels installed on state property.
McAuliffe said the plan is “a hedge against price volatility in coal and natural gas” and will increase the state’s reliance on the zero-emissions renewable energy in compliance with the federal Clean Power Plan.
Rising sea levels are particularly dangerous in Virginia, home to the world’s largest naval base in Norfolk, he said.
“We are more vulnerable than any state in the United States,” he said during a news conference. The goal will also help Virginia gain a foothold in the lucrative solar panel manufacturing industry, he said.
The new benchmark is one of the recommendations of the Governor’s Climate Change and Resiliency Update Commission, a panel McAuliffe reconvened in summer 2014.
It was initially established by former governor Timothy M. Kaine (D), but went dark under his successor, former governor Robert F. McDonnell (R), who questioned the science behind climate change.
Dawone Robinson, Virginia policy director at the Chesapeake Climate Action Network, said the report is a good start, but more must be done. The group supports a bill sponsored by Sens. A. Donald McEachin (D-Henrico) and Ron Villanueva (R-Virginia Beach) to add Virginia to the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, which Robinson said could pay to combat rampant flooding in Hampton Roads.
“Given dangerous flooding is already a routine threat along our coast, Virginia must pick up the pace on climate action,” Robinson said in a statement. “We need to move as quickly as possible to a renewable energy economy, while helping localities deal with the impacts of sea level rise and flooding that are here now.”
In addition to the 110-megawatt initiative announced Monday, Dominion has plans for a 80-megawatt solar farm in Accomack County, which the administration has called the second-largest facility of its kind on the East Coast.
The power generated will feed electrical grids that supply Amazon Web Services’ data center activities, including ones in Northern Virginia, according to the state.
Dominion also recently requested permission from the Virginia State Corporation Commission to develop solar facilities in Powhatan, Louisa and Isle of Wight counties.
Paul E. Ruppert, a senior vice president in charge of business development and generation construction at Dominion, said solar is “a good energy source” but needs to be part of a diverse supply “due to its variability.”
Dominion is seeking federal approval for a 550-mile natural gas pipeline through Virginia, West Virginia and North Carolina. McAuliffe supports the project and signed a controversial law last year that frees the company from financial audits for several years.