Amazon secures approval for 80 MW Virginia solar farm

Amazon Web Services, the cloud computing platform of online retail giant Amazon, has this week secured the final permit it required for the construction of an 80 MW solar farm in Virginia’s Accomack County.

The Amazon Solar Farm U.S. East will be developed and owned by EPC Community Energy, which has partnered with Amazon Web Services to deliver the plant under a long-term power purchase agreement (PPA). All solar energy generated from the plant will enter the local grid that Amazon uses for its data center operations in the region. The approval follows last week’s news that Equinix is to utilize 105 MW of SunEdison-provided solar energy to power its data center operations in California.

At the beginning of the week, Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe revealed that the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality had agreed to issue a permit for the facility, which will utilize 250,000 solar panels and generate enough clean electricity to meet the power needs of 15,000 local households.

"We are now in the game," said McAuliffe in relation to the approval of the solar farm. "We weren’t in the past even suited up. I think we’re sending the signal that Virginia is open and welcoming to renewables and this is a good place to do business."

McAuliffe added that Amazon’s partnership with Community Energy is "indicative of the types of opportunities that my administration is working toward through our commitment to build a new Virginia economy."

The solar farm, once complete, will be the largest PV facility in the mid-Atlantic region. Construction will begin later this year, with commercial operation penciled in for later 2016.

Community Energy president Brent Alderfer issued a statement following the plant’s approval, saying: "With this project, Virginia jumps to the lead in attracting the energy industry of the future, with cloud-technology leader Amazon Web Services as the first customer."

Virginia’s movement in the renewable energy sphere has been lethargic in recent years, with Virginia policy director for the Chesapeake Climate Action Network Dawone Robinson urging the state to adopt more policies designed to incentivize the development of clean energy projects such as this.

"I think [the solar plant] is a great step forward, but we have a long way to go," Robinson said. "We’re still greatly behind Maryland, even further behind North Carolina when it comes to solar development."

Virginia’s federal Clean Power Plan has, however, prompted some positive action in recent months. In March the commonwealth voted to double non-residential net metering to 1 MW, while the establishment of the Virginia Solar Energy Development Authority will work towards reaching 400 MW of solar PV capacity in the state by 2020.

According to the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA), Virginia ranks 31st nationally among states for solar PV capacity, with little more than 15 MW currently installed.