Our friends at the national 25x’25 organization recently shared two news items related to biomass projects across the Commonwealth. The first is the $90 million loan that Northern Virginia Power Cooperative recently received from the USDA Rural Utilities Service. This loan will be used to help to fund the construction of a 49.9 megawatt (MW) biomass facility in South Boston, VA, in southern Virginia. Now, to put things in perspective, a 50MW power plant isn’t all that huge — an average coal-fired plant produces hundreds of megawatts of power, though the average size has been decreasing in recent. Still, the plant will provide about 6% of the cooperative’s total electricity production and will draw on wood waste from a 75-mile radius.
The second is the announcement that Enviva, a wood pellet manufacturer, will provide wood chips to two Dominion Power coal plants. The two facilities, in Southampton and Hopewell, have been converted to operate using biomass, including wood chips. Both are about 50MW plants. Enviva will produce nearly 750,000 metric tons of wood chips and pellets this year, but most of that is shipped overseas to Europe. The strong and active role of governments in promoting renewable energy throughout most of the European continent has put them far ahead of the U.S. in terms of renewable adoption. Virginia only has a 15% renewable portfolito standard (RPS) by 2025, and that is voluntary, without any legal mandate or punishment for non-compliance. Germany, by contrast, is aiming for 35-40% of their energy to come from renewables as early as 2020. (Plus, that country has an agressive feed-in tariff system that financially rewards, rather than punishes, renewable energy installers.) Nevertheless, it is good to see Dominion moving to implement more biomass facilities. This move will likely be good for Dominion, good for the Commonwealth, and good for consumers in the long term.
The economic viability of woody biomass, a term used to describe a variety of fuelstocks comprised of wood, has made it an appealing renewable option. Sustainable harvesting and active forest management practices can make biomass an outstanding long-term solution for some of the Shenandoah Valley’s energy portfolio. These news stories are encouraging, since they provide models for what the Valley can achieve using biomass. The South Boston facility can serve as a renewable energy beacon…in addition to helping to llight up southern Virginia, of course!
On Wednesday, October 5, the first electric vehicle (EV) charging station was unveiled in the parking lot near . The ribbon cutting ceremony took place in the late morning and drew a crowd of more than thirty people. The push for EV charging infrastructure has been pushed by many members of the community, most notably Dave Miller, who owns Dave’s Taverna, actively works to promote a vibrant downtown Harrisonburg, and is renewable energy advocate. Other partners in the project included HEC, the City of Harrisonburg, Downtown Renaissance, and Virginia Clean Cities. The charger, made by Eaton, can charge the batteries of two EVs at a time. Harrisonburg Electric Company Total charging time is a little over four hours. Initially, HEC will allow customers to charge their vehicles on the unit for free, since the company wants to encourage its use and to collect data about usage patterns and charging times. Brian O’Dell, of HEC, said that the company eventually plans to shift to a pay-per-hour service with a credit card reader.
Although EVs are not necessarily renewable — and sadly, in the Valley, most of our electricity still comes from coal — but shifting to EVs can benefit the cause of greater renewable energy for a number of reasons. Most importantly, they shift the load of transportation away from oil, the supply of which is limited and politicaly uncertain, and towards a system that can use energy that is generated in any of a number of different ways (e.g. wind or solar).
For additional reporting on this event, see WHSV’s write-up.
Have you ever considered getting solar panels for your home or business? Ever wanted to know more about solar panels in practice, but didn’t know anyone with experience with them? If so, you have a chance this Saturday, October 1, to talk with home and business owners in the central Shenandoah Valley who have solar panels. This informal “solar tour” will feature installations of both PV and solar thermal panels in locations ranging from Waynesboro to Harrisonburg to Fincastle. There is no need to sign up, just show up at any of the locations listed here during the availability listed on each location.
These home and business owners will obviously have different levels of knowledge, but all have agreed to be around their homes and answer whatever questions they can about their panels. The sites range from newly installed systems whose history is measured in months to systems that have been in place for over two decades. The event is part of a national effort to increase awareness of solar power as a clean and available source of renewable energy. Hopefully, the more people are able to see installed systems and ask questions about them, the more they will consider solar systems for their own homes. Also, if you have a solar installation and want to be added to the list, details for getting involved are here.
The event was written up in two newspapers, with articles in the Staunton News Leader and Waynesboro’s The News Virginian.