Skeptics wondered how the county could realistically achieve these goals.
But in late January, the Arlington County Board approved the county’s purchase from Dominion Energy of a portion of the output from a new 120-megawatt solar farm to be constructed by Dominion on agricultural land in rural Virginia. As County Board Member Katie Cristol conceded during the board meeting, the original energy plan goals were based “not entirely on a wish and a prayer” but were, at heart, deeply aspirational. At a stroke, however, the county’s purchases under the new agreement will more than satisfy the county government’s 2022 goal and come close to the 2025 goal.
The “Amazon Arlington Solar Farm Virginia” will be operational in 2022. Under its agreement with Dominion, Arlington will enter into a fixed-price, 17-year contract. The power will not be delivered directly to Arlington County. Rather, it will be sold into the wholesale power market. The agreement does involve some financial risk. If, for example, the wholesale price of power over time proves to be less than the contract price, then the county will pay a premium. If, on the other hand, the wholesale price of power increases, then the county will benefit. The county estimates that the agreement will be “expense neutral” in the near term and likely will save money over the long term. At the same time, Arlington will receive renewable energy certificates demonstrating that it has “legally greened” a significant portion of its energy supply.
The county deserves considerable acclaim for negotiating this agreement. Arlington’s energy plan had estimated that, to achieve its targets, it would need to obtain the vast majority of its electricity from remote off-site sources — not from on-site renewables or directly from nearby renewable facilities. For some years now, Arlington has purchased renewable energy certificates from out-of-state providers, frequently wind farms in the Midwest. Those certificates, however, have been criticized because they do not add to the renewable capacity in Virginia: Blue states purchasing power from red states to look green.
Critics also warn that the very low prices charged for the certificates indicate that they provide little, if any, stimulus to renewable production even in their states of origin. The higher-quality certificates bundled with Arlington’s proposed agreement with Dominion, on the other hand, represent a significant and direct investment in entirely new solar power in our jurisdiction. Other Virginia municipalities reportedly are already monitoring Arlington’s experiment with care and, depending on its success, are expected to pursue similar agreements.
The potential climate-mitigating effects of the agreement are important and demonstrate the county’s leadership in matters of environmental stewardship. Perhaps more important to Arlington in the long run, however, are the partnerships strengthened or forged in the agreement. The only other customer of the new solar farm is Amazon, which is building its new headquarters in Arlington and is contracting for two-thirds of the output. Like Arlington, Amazon has made a bold “Climate Pledge” and sees agreements such as this one as essential to fulfill those pledges. In connection with Amazon’s HQ2 project in Arlington, both entities have been working cooperatively to promote environmental sustainability. The project has been praised by Arlington County Board member Christian Dorsey as coming “with energy commitments that are unprecedented in Arlington.” The new power purchase agreement seems likely to reinforce further the shared, and fiercely pursued, net-zero carbon goals of Arlington and Amazon. (Amazon founder and chief executive Jeff Bezos also owns The Post.)
Arlington’s other “partner” in this agreement, Dominion Energy, is the exclusive supplier of power to Arlington County. Dominion has been subject to widespread and long-standing criticism from its customers for its reluctance to invest substantially in renewables and for its continued emphasis on fossil fuels. The proposed agreement, however, signals a modest yet welcome change in Dominion’s fuel mix and bodes well for improving the oft-fraught relationship between Dominion and other progressive Virginia municipalities.