The first industrial-scale solar farm to produce electricity for Appalachian Power Co. has been approved by the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality.

Construction of the Depot Solar Center in Campbell County is expected to begin in the spring and be completed by the end of the year, according to Ryan Gilchrist of Coronal Energy, a private company that will operate the facility.

The rows of solar panels on a 150-acre site near Rustburg will provide 15 megawatts of electricity to Appalachian, which is shifting its power generation from coal-burning power plants to more renewable energy.

“Virginia is adopting solar technology at record rates, and we are building an economy that is cleaner and greener as a result,” Gov. Ralph Northam said in a statement last month that announced DEQ approval of four other solar farms.

Although about 1,000 of Appalachian’s 500,000-plus Virginia customers have solar panels at their homes or businesses, a power-purchase agreement with Coronal marks the utility’s first venture into industrial-scale solar power.

Appalachian is considering bids from other energy companies for more large-scale projects that will add another 200 megawatts of solar to its power portfolio, spokesman John Shepelwich said.

The utility currently gets about 60% of its electricity from coal. Another 19% comes from natural gas, 11% from hydroelectric and 7% from wind turbines.

After the Campbell County Board of Supervisors granted a special use permit last year, the Depot Solar Center went to DEQ for consideration of its environmental impacts.

In a Nov. 5 letter to the company, DEQ approved the permit with several conditions, including tree-cutting requirements to protect bats, monitoring for invasive species and landscape protection measures.

In recent years, DEQ has approved 39 permits for solar farms in Virginia. Thirteen of them have been built so far and are producing a total of about 400 megawatts, enough to power nearly 100,000 homes.

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Laurence Hammack covers environmental issues, including the Mountain Valley Pipeline, and business and enterprise stories. He has been a reporter for The Roanoke Times for more than three decades.

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