Dulles could build the largest airport solar farm in the United States

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The proposed solar farm and storage facility would be the largest airport project in the United States, Dominion Energy said.

DULLES, Va. – Virginia has just taken a big step toward transforming Dulles Airport into a full-scale solar farm. If built, it will be the largest solar power generation and storage facility at an airport in the United States, according to a Dominion Energy spokesperson.

Dominion reports that the project will be capable of producing 100 megawatts, enough solar electricity to power more than 16,000 homes. However, much of the energy would be used to boost vehicle charging capacity for buses and cars in Dulles, according to Aaron Ruby of Dominion Energy.

The Dulles Solar Project was among 15 sites in Virginia that were approved by the State Corporation Commission (SCC) on Tuesday, Dominion announced. In total, the approved solar sites will provide nearly 1,000 megawatts of carbon-free electricity, enough to power about 250,000 Virginia homes at peak output, Dominion said.

The Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority’s board of directors on Wednesday received a recommendation to approve the project from airport managers who studied the proposal. The proposal still needs to be reviewed by the Federal Aviation Administration and other federal authorities before it can be built, according to the airport staff report.

The FAA will investigate whether glare from a future solar farm could impact flight safety, the report said.

Jesse Jenkins, a professor at Princeton University’s Center for Energy and Environmental Policy Research, said airports are attracting a lot of interest from solar developers.

“Airports make a lot of sense for siting solar power,” Jenkins said. “They are usually close to where we consume electricity near our urban areas. The land is already booked – large areas of land – with security perimeters already around them, and that makes a really logical place to develop solar.”

The Dulles site would be 835 acres in size and could be completed by 2024, according to the Airport Authority report.

In total, Dominion has acquired nearly 100,000 acres of land for future solar development, including a reclaimed coal mine in southwest Virginia, Ruby said.

Land use in local communities is a growing tension in the solar industry, according to former US Department of Energy official Samantha Gross, who is now a researcher at the Brookings Institution.

“People think solar power is all positive,” Gross said. “But it uses a lot of land, and that’s of particular concern when it uses land that is important for other uses, like residential development or farmland.”

Gross said Dulles’ proposal was “a good idea”.

The Dulles project would include a storage facility capable of storing 50 megawatts of electricity, according to Dominion Energy. The facility would feature large battery pods that resemble steel shipping containers.

“We all know that solar power only produces electricity when the sun is shining,” Ruby said. “So when we build solar, we need the ability to store solar energy during the day, so we can generate electricity at night, because our customers need electricity. 24 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.”

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