Another solar power boost is slated for West Virginia, a year after state lawmakers passed legislation to encourage solar energy development.
Berkeley County Council announced Thursday that a renewable energy development company plans to install a $100 million solar electricity production facility at the former Dupont Potomac River Works explosives manufacturing facility.
It will be one of the Mountain State’s first utility-scale solar projects, along with a solar farm planned for Raleigh County.
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.
The PILOT agreement exempts the company from personal property tax payment for a 15-year period, after which the company will assume ownership of machinery equipment on the site from the Berkeley County Development Authority.
In lieu of taxes, the company is to pay $1,850 per megawatt of production capacity, with an annual minimum payment of $100,000. The company offered to pay $450,000 to Berkeley County for “quality of life” purposes, including parks and public spaces, public safety and health assets, and cultural and historical initiatives.
At no cost to the Berkeley County Board of Education, the company also agreed to install at least one solar photovoltaic array at one or more public schools totaling a minimum of 100 kilowatts within two years of operating the facility.
A Torch Clean Energy project manager told Berkeley County Council at its meeting Thursday that annual school district energy cost savings would total $15,000 to $20,000.
Bedington Energy Facility is still required to pay property taxes.
The company estimated that the project will generate more than $20 million in taxes and create a renewable energy infrastructure capable of attracting major technology companies. The project is estimated to create 150 to 200 construction jobs during construction, according to the county.
“The project will be a beacon for leading companies that are seeking to purchase clean energy and open operations in Berkeley County and West Virginia,” Jon Kilberg, president of Torch Clean Energy, said in a Berkeley County news release.
The project is slated to increase West Virginia’s solar electricity production almost tenfold.
Berkeley County acknowledged in its press release that the Solar Energy Industries Association ranks West Virginia 49th in the nation in installed solar energy capacity, and state Delegate Evan Hansen, D-Monongalia, is confident that West Virginia can land further solar development projects in the near future and turn environmental liabilities like brownfields into environmental assets.
“I hope it does open the floodgates because we need every job we can get in West Virginia,” Hansen said, who predicted that solar facility construction and payments to counties in the years to come will make the notion of solar development in West Virginia “a lot more real.”
“This is an inspiring glimpse into what the future could hold for degraded lands throughout West Virginia,” said Autumn Long, regional field director for Solar United Neighbors. “The state is riddled with former mine lands and other industrial brownfield sites that are marginally useful at best for any other type of development.”
The Legislature passed two solar-friendly bills in last year’s session, creating a solar utility program approving renewable electric generating facilities up to 50 megawatts and favorably adjusting the business and occupation tax for solar energy.
The 90-megawatt Raleigh Solar Farm, also powered by a PILOT agreement, is expected to be operational in late 2022 or 2023, according to the project website.
Long hopes that Senate Bill 611, a measure that stalled in the Legislature last year that would have provided affordable financing options for distributed solar to West Virginia schools, businesses and homeowners, is reintroduced in the upcoming legislative session.
Hansen also wants to keep the momentum toward solar energy in West Virginia going in the Legislature and hopes the body will approve power purchase agreements to allow for possible tax credits and fixed rates to increase demand for rooftop solar.
“This is another example of solar developers coming to West Virginia to create jobs now that we opened up the market,” Hansen said.