What We Can Learn from a Southern Virginia Solar Project Roundtable

21 Jun 2017

On a sunny May morning in the heart of Pittsylvania County, Virginia just a few miles away from an upcoming 6MW solar project that will provide the City of Danville 2 percent of its energy, Sol Systems participated in a Clean Energy Jobs Tour with Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe. The solar roundtable discussion, hosted by Danville Utilities, was attended not only by the Governor, but also local government officials, community members, and Sol Systems’ partner on the project: TurningPoint Energy. The discussion among diverse parties focused on the economic and security benefits of clean energy, and seemed more like a cornerstone for the mountain of similar discussions now starting in small towns across the US.

Although the talk was planned to revolve around the Danville solar project, which to a large extent it did, the discussion often took a step back to the bigger picture. And, here’s why: the benefits that Danville Utilities will see from behind-the-meter project, specifically its ability to offset peak load time, can apply to many municipal utilities across the country.

Jobs Creation

Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe speaks about the Danville solar project as part of his Clean Energy Jobs Tour.

As with any infrastructure project, a solar energy farm creates jobs. The Danville project, for instance, will require labor to clear land, install the project itself and provide maintenance for the life of the project, among other work. From clearing the land, installing the panels, and other tasks like paving access roads, the Danville project will create local jobs. Jobs in solar also prepare local workers to do renewable projects in the future, which is valuable in a state like VA, whose quick-growing solar market installed 192 of its 241MW of solar capacity in 2016 alone.

“These are the jobs of the 21st century,” shared Governor McAuliffe at the Clean Energy Jobs Round Table, “Either you get in on this renewable clean energy, or you will forfeit these jobs.”

Virginia currently employs more people in solar than coal.

Attracting Business

Bringing a utility-scale renewable energy project to a community doesn’t just bring in jobs created by the construction and maintenance of the project, but also can attract businesses that have large renewable goals. Sustainability reports for large corporations factor in scope for carbon accounting, and if a company moves into a municipality with their own utility, the type of energy that the company buys from them will be material. If a municipality has a large renewable portfolio, it can be a big draw for companies that will not have to worry about offsetting their carbon through direct means. In a state like Virginia, where 3rd party financing through PPAs is illegal, unless a company purchases offsite power, they are stuck with the emissions from the power they buy from the utility. Therefore, municipal utilities with more renewable energy in their mix can be very attractive.

“[Data center companies] won’t come unless you give them renewable energy,” said Governor McAullife about meetings he had with Amazon and Apple the previous week on a West Coast trip. The Governor was stern in his tone and wording about this point in particular, repeating once more, “They will not come.”

NPR’s interview with the mayor of Georgetown, Texas, a conservative-leaning town that has reached 100% renewable energy, echoes these sentiments. New and old businesses in the area have been happy promote their town’s 100% clean accomplishment as well.

“It’s a great economic development tool,” said Georgetown Mayor Dale Ross in the interview, “because there’s a lot of high-quality companies in this country that have robust green energy policies.”

Cheap Energy

What made solar ultimately attractive for the City of Danville was that it offered them behind-the-meter energy for a competitive and stable price while solving their problem with peaking capacity.

“We weren’t thinking we needed to go out and build a solar farm,” said Jason Grey, Director of Utilities for the City of Danville, “but a solar farm fit [our needs] very well.”

Sol Systems Director, Policy & New Markets Sara Rafalson speaks at the Clean Energy Round Table in Danville

By taking advantage of the ITC, as well as being able to site the project as behind-the-meter, the project was very economical for the City, which chose solar over natural gas proposals.

These benefits are not exclusive to Danville, Virginia, and the market for municipal utilities to adopt solar is ripe with potential. Sol Systems had previously worked on a 4MW array with the town of Lexington, Nebraska, and is also working with another municipal utility to help the town realize the same benefits. Although state policies can dictate the small variations in how a deal will pencil, many municipal utilities are dealing with the same situation that the City of Danville is, and can employ a similar solution.

“Solar meets our peak profile so well, because our system peaks in the summer between 2-4 o’clock,” said Gray, “and what resource is better at providing energy than a solar resource, and you’ll find that will be a similar situation for other resources in Virginia.”

As municipalities work with local utilities look to expand their energy portfolios across the country, behind-the-meter benefits of solar, new jobs a solar project creates, and the business it can help attract are just a few drivers for municipalities to do these deals. For municipalities and developers alike looking to procure solar energy, Sol Systems has experience bringing low-cost, highly-effective projects to the finish line. Shoot us an email at finance@solsystems.com if you’d like to learn more.


Sol Systems, a national solar finance and development firm, delivers sophisticated, customized services for institutional, corporate, and municipal customers. Sol is employee-owned, and has been profitable since inception in 2008. Sol is backed by Sempra Energy, a $25+ billion energy company.

Over the last eight years, Sol Systems has delivered more than 600MW of solar projects for Fortune 100 companies, municipalities, universities, churches, and small businesses. Sol now manages over $650 million in solar energy assets for utilities, banks, and Fortune 500 companies.

Inc. 5000 recognized Sol Systems in its annual list of the nation’s fastest-growing private companies for four consecutive years. For more information, please visit www.solsystems.com.

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William Patterson

William Patterson