Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe applauded a Dan River Region solar energy project and said Virginia needs to get serious about alternative energy if it wants to attract large tech companies and other employers during an energy roundtable discussion Tuesday in Danville.
“We’ve got to get our heads out of the sand on this issue,” McAuliffe said.
At the roundtable meeting — which included leaders from Danville Utilities, the city of Danville, Pittsylvania County and others — McAuliffe announced the Kentuck Solar project solar farm will begin construction in August.
McAuliffe made Danville the second stop on his Clean Energy Jobs Tour, first announcing a $5.6 million investment from the state’s Green Community Program to retro-fit heating and lighting at Russell County Schools. Earlier this month, McAuliffe announced plans to regulate carbon emissions of Virginia power plants.
“I talk about clean energy every single day,” McAuliffe said. “I said ‘I’m not going to wait for the federal government.’”
In Pittsylvania County, the solar farm will be located next to Dan River Middle School and Dan River High School on Kentuck Church Road. Danville Utilities director Jason Grey said the project — which should be operational by this winter — would provide about 2 percent of city energy needs.
“It’s not a lot, but we can build on this,” Grey said at the discussion.
Grey also said the farm would work well during peak energy usage hours, like hot summer afternoons. The farm also isn’t dependent on fuel costs, like coal or natural gas.
“We’re very concerned about the ultimate cost of our utilities,” said Danville City Manager Ken Larking.
Danville Mayor John Gilstrap said he hoped this would be the beginning of a series of moves to alternative energy projects.
“It’s fair to say we would be very interested in expanding renewable energy,” Gilstrap said.
Joe Davis, Pittsylvania County Board of Supervisors vice chairman, noted supervisors must be able to answer to their constituents about these projects. Virginia Secretary of Commerce Todd Haymore said educating residents would be a key part of projects.
“Change is very hard to implement in Pittsylvania County,” Davis noted.
However, McAuliffe urged the state to jump on clean energy projects for several reasons. He noted that climate change could have a dramatic impact on the state, with rising sea levels threatening the Norfolk Naval Shipyard with flooding. Additionally, he said many tech companies like Google and Microsoft wanted to see investment in renewable energy before they would move to the area.
Haymore went on to praise the successful collaboration between Danville and the county and said he held the project up around the state as a great example for other localities.
“I’m incredibly proud of what you all have done,” Haymore said.