The VCEA mandates by law that by 2045, electricity generation in Virginia is 100% sustainable, meaning no fossil fuel generation. It includes solar, wind, and currently existing nuclear power generation. This is not a discussion on whether this is realistically achievable, although it has become increasingly clear that it highly unlikely, and needs to be rethought and revised.
Included is the solar component of the VCEA, as it would exist today based on current Virginia electricity demand, and what it would potentially look like by 2045. The data presented is based on widely available public information on solar installations, including from Dominion Resources, as well as Federal and State data.
In 2022, electricity consumption in Virginia, including residential, commercial, and industrial, totaled 128 million megawatt hours. This is projected to double by 2036, primarily due to investments in the state for Data Centers, and does not include electric vehicles and appliance conversions from natural gas to electric. Dominion Resources indicated the demand increase would be an additional 140 million megawatt hours, requiring additional generation capacity in the state. An independent anti fossil fuel funded analyst indicated Dominion’s number were incorrect, and the additional energy needs would be only 100 million megawatt hours, still virtually double the 2022 demand.
Doing the calculations based on 2022 demand of 128 million megawatt hours, this is what VCEA required generation would look like:
Nuclear: 29 million megawatt hours
Wind: 8 million megawatt hours (more on this in the next VECT editorial and verified for Phase 1 CVOW)
Solar: 91 million megawatt hours
There are many calculations that go into assessing the area required to provide 91 million megawatt hours of solar energy. You can use the square meters of solar panels at 400 watts per panel (most panels installed are not 400 watts currently, nor likely in the near future), plus associated space between rows, required set backs, access roads, retention ponds/lakes, land area for connection to the grid, etc. Dominion and other utilities use a factor of 10 acres per megawatt. The numbers come out very close either way. The calculations indicate that to provide 91 million megawatt hours of electricity, it will require 500,000 acres of area.
There is currently in Virginia 15 million acres of mature forest, 3 million acres of farm land, and 500,000 acres of roof top (includes residential, commercial, industrial, warehouse, and brown field sites). Sounds like it should be easy. Well only about 10% of residential roof top is suitable (about 20000 acres) if all these homeowners would make the investment (highly unlikely), commercial and warehouse roof top is about 15,000 acres (seems low but that is the data), industrial property has associated hazards making it unsuitable, and energy developers don’t like brown field sites because they are typically ‘too small’ to be profitable. This means a minimum of 460,000 acres of land (farm and forest) would be needed for 2022 level demand. If we include the projected demand by 2036, the land area necessary will be 1 million acres for solar.
How environmentally friendly is it to take 1 million acres of Virginia farms and / or forests to fulfill the VCEA. One acre of mature forest sequesters up to 2000 tons per year of CO2 (23 kgs per tree, 90 trees per acre). Farm land sequesters slightly less per acre, and with no-till farming practices, very little CO2 is released from the soil back into the atmosphere. This means that by 2036, if Virginia farms and forest were to be converted, this would reduce CO2 sequestering in our state by 1.5 billion tons per year!
If you are truly an Environmentalist and Conservationist, sacrificing our farms and forest for solar is a true catastrophe. The Mountain Valley Pipeline legal action in 2023 by so called ‘environmental’ groups (be honest and just call yourselves Anti – Fossil Fuel groups, which is ok, just don’t take true environmental and conservation caring people as fools) was based on 300 acres of land yet to be cleared (20 miles long by 125 feet wide). The law suits included water contamination, species extinction, plant life and wildlife habitat decimation, potential accidents, etc. With natural gas pipelines, after completion, almost none of these claims would continue and are only affected during construction. The solar field needs to fulfill the VCEA is ‘only’ greater than 3000 times the impact. For gas line construction, It has been demonstrated many times that the habitat, water absorption, wildlife and wildlife diversity all recover and actually improve quickly due to more land and vegetation diversity.
Solar fields have all the same negative risks, are not temporary, as the effects last for the life of the solar field, and bring additional environmental risks like heavy metal leaching from panels, which then render the land unsuitable for future farming. Additionally, 5-10% of solar fields catch fire annually (mostly faulty installations, out of spec wiring, defective panels and transformers) which have burned adjacent properties. It has also been demonstrated that solar fields increase atmospheric temperatures as they reflect sunlight and heat back into the atmosphere. This is one of the main reasons the massive Sahara solar project was abandoned. If you live or have land in the proximity of a solar field, the ambient air temperature will be higher, leading to vegetation impacts, higher cooling costs in the summer, and likely lower heating costs in the winter. Climate change is not only impacted by atmospheric CO2.
Interestingly enough, property adjacent to solar fields within one mile experience lower property values of 2 to 10% (the closer the lower the values). Are the solar field owners going to compensate adjacent land owners for the reduction in their property values and higher utility costs?
So, going back to the titled question, why have the so called ‘environmental’ groups been silent on the coming environmental and conservation devastation of 1 million acres of land in Virginia, as well as the loss of 1.5 billion tons of CO2 sequestration? They are funded not by those interested in our environment, wildlife, land and water health. Their funding is from investment groups that have placed their bets on solar. As almost all public solar companies share values have dropped dramatically in 2023, the only income they have is coming from our US Government subsidies, hence our taxes. The ‘investors’ are funding the Environment Argument as a hope (as well as heavy funding of politicians favorable to get them what they want). In the end, there is nothing illegal about this, as we all have the freedom to make our own investments, choices, and vote as we choose. It is a matter of having the facts, knowing what you believe in, and choosing accordingly.
Solar development of roof top, closed coal fired power plant sites, closed garbage dumps and other developable brown field sites all makes sense, along with nuclear, some wind, hydrogen, and natural gas. The loss of one million acres of Virginia forest and farm land certainly does not!
The Virginia Energy Consumer Trust is a 501c 4 organization. We are advocates for Virginia’s environmental and conservation preservation and improvement, and policies to stay on this roadmap while fulfilling Energy Justice, energy affordability, a sound state economy, high quality job growth, an improved standard of living, and national security. All energy sources have their benefits and drawbacks, and we seek to have the optimum mix that supports our vision for our state. Our goal is to be a voice for Virginia residents and businesses with data and facts that are in all our interests.
Virginia Energy Consumer Trust