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Five takeaways from the landmark Virginia Solar Survey

Solar panels on the roof of Powhatan Elementary School
Solar panels on the roof of Powhatan Elementary School(Sarah Vogelsong/Virginia Mercury)
Published: Apr. 26, 2022 at 1:19 PM EDT
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After a slow start, solar has been booming in Virginia.

From having zero large-scale solar farms in 2015, the commonwealth now has 51 in operation, with more than half found in the central and Southside regions. Distributed solar — which includes rooftop solar and small ground arrays that provide power at or near the place where it is used — has also seen a sharp increase. Installations have more than quintupled since 2017, with more than 26,000 in operation by the end of 2021.

As solar has mushroomed across the landscape, driven in large part by the 2020 Virginia Clean Economy Act, it’s also gotten more political. Solar is land-intensive, and the transition to a more decentralized energy system means that people and communities once largely insulated from energy production are now dealing with it in their backyards — often quite literally.

But as policymakers grapple with how to handle the solar boom, statewide information has often proved elusive.

“It felt like the information we were getting was piecemeal,” said Elizabeth Marshall, senior project coordinator of the Virginia Solar Initiative at the University of Virginia’s Weldon Cooper Center. “When we looked at the available data sources, each one gave us a snapshot. But it was really difficult to put the pieces together.”

In an effort to fill that gap, this week Weldon Cooper and the Virginia Department of Energy released the Virginia Solar Survey, the state’s first comprehensive roundup of what solar has been developed, where and how local governments have handled the projects. Of Virginia’s 133 localities, 109 responded, providing what the report says is “confidence that the results reflect statewide trends and patterns.”

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.(Virginia Mercury)

The Virginia Mercury is a new, nonpartisan, nonprofit news organization covering Virginia government and policy

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