Raleigh County utility-scale solar project has new owner | Energy and Environment

One of West Virginia’s first utility-scale solar projects is moving forward under new ownership.

Enel Green Power, a global renewable energy developer whose international headquarters are in Rome, has taken over the project to construct and operate a 90-megawatt solar farm in Raleigh County approved by county officials and state utility regulators last year.

Enel Green Power has bought 100% ownership interest in the project as part of a 3.2-gigawatt portfolio of solar projects from Dakota Renewable Energy.

Operations are expected to begin in 2023 on a solar farm consisting of 250,000 solar panels over 530 acres in the Grandview area.

“What made it very attractive out there at that particular site is the big overhead lines from the power grid,” Raleigh County Administrator Jay Quesenberry said. “It’s very easy for them to put that power right into a substation and put it right up on the grid.

Enel Green Power said the project will be the company’s first of several solar projects in development across the state. West Virginia projects in development, including the Raleigh County project, will feature paired battery storage to add resiliency to the power grid as the country develops more renewable energy.

“In West Virginia, I think we have an enormous opportunity,” said Nick Coil, senior director of regional development at Enel Green Power, whose North American branch operates 58 plants with more than 6.6 gigawatts powered by renewable wind, geothermal and solar energy.

Coil said West Virginia’s lack of utility-scale solar generating facilities makes the state ripe for development that could generate tax revenue for counties and school districts, even if the state’s mountainous terrain may ultimately limit the state’s appeal to an industry that values flatter land for laying down blocks of solar panels.

“Hopefully Raleigh will be one of the first of many projects in the state,” Coil said. “ … We’re excited about this opportunity to go into a newer market.”

Coil declined to say how much Enel Green Power paid to purchase the solar project.

Raleigh Solar I, LLC, a subsidiary of Dakota Renewable Energy, estimated that the project would cost $90 million prior to the Public Service Commission of West Virginia approving a siting certificate for the project in October. 

The Public Service Commission’s order granting that certificate applies to all subsequent owners of the project, approving a decommissioning agreement with an initial minimum of $50,000 security and requiring that construction start within five years and finish within 10 years.

The Raleigh County Commission in September approved a payment in lieu of taxes agreement with Raleigh Solar to swell the county’s coffers by more than $2 million, with most of it going to the Raleigh County Board of Education.

The project will yield three to five permanent jobs that Coil said are “typically local” and 150 to 200 jobs throughout the construction process that could take from eight months to a year to finish.

Coil estimated that the solar farm’s capacity of 90 megawatts is typically enough to power about 16,000 homes. The Raleigh County project’s anticipated power output is roughly average among Enel Green Power’s range of solar projects, Coil said.

West Virginia lawmakers opened up the state’s solar market in the 2020 legislative session by passing bills that created a solar utility program and favorably adjusted the business and occupation tax for solar energy.

In statements released by Enel Green Power, West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice and U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., welcomed the company and in-state solar development while making clear their continued support for both fossil fuels in addition to renewable energy.

“I’m incredibly excited for all the goodness that Enel Green Power’s acquisition of the Raleigh Solar Project is going to bring to our great state and people,” Justice said. “As I’ve said many times, West Virginia is an ‘all-in’ energy state. We abound in a diverse range of natural resources unlike any other place on Earth. Not only will this project continue to diversify our state’s energy output and allow us to power people’s homes in a sustainable way, the ripple effects on our economy and workforce will be phenomenal.”

“The announcement of a major solar project in West Virginia is fantastic news for our state because it points, yet again, to the abundant natural resources there,” said Manchin, chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. “From coal and natural gas to wind, solar, and hydropower, the Mountain State has been — and will continue to be —the backbone of the American economy, and investments like this allow us to continue to utilize an all-of-the-above approach to energy production and job creation while deploying innovative energy technologies and maintaining our nation’s position as a global energy leader.”

The Solar Energy Industries Association ranks West Virginia 49th in the nation in installed solar energy capacity.

Another utility-scale solar project is planned in Berkeley County, whose county council announced in January that a renewable energy development company aims to install a $100 million solar electricity production facility at a former DuPont Potomac River Works explosives manufacturing facility.

Bedington Energy Facility, LLC, a Delaware subsidiary of Colorado-based Torch Clean Energy, plans to invest $100 million to build a 100-megawatt solar facility on 750 acres of land at a site that was designated to be a brownfield “unsuitable for most commercial and industrial uses,” according to a payment in lieu of taxes agreement between Berkeley County Council and Bedington Energy Facility.

Coil predicts tremendous growth in the solar industry over the next five years consistent with current market forces and says Enel Green Power will share the wealth by sponsoring STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) education and other initiatives that rural communities identify as priorities.

“We’re not just gonna come in and be a quiet observer in the community,” Coil said. “We want to be an active participant and help the community out.”

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