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Two Peninsula solar farms are the latest in Dominion’s growing portfolio

Norge Solar in James City County and Winterberry Solar in Gloucester County will provide power to 10,000 homes on the Peninsula. Photo by Nick McNamara
Norge Solar in James City County and Winterberry Solar in Gloucester County will provide power to 10,000 homes on the Peninsula. Photo by Nick McNamara

Two large-scale solar facilities, Winterberry Solar and Norge Solar, went online at the end of November, and Dominion Energy said they’ll generate enough power for 10,000 homes in Gloucester and James City County.

Dominion spokesperson Tim Eberly said the two facilities will also create tens of thousands of dollars in local tax revenue.

“It’s very exciting for us to have these open up and have two of them just in a matter of days,” Eberly said. “It is a testament to how aggressively we’ve been pushing on solar in the last few years.”

The 343-acre Winterberry farm is located in Gloucester County to the south of the county seat. The 224-acre Norge farm is across the York River in James City County, located in the unincorporated community by the same name to Williamsburg’s northwest. 

They complement two Dominion farms already in operation between Gloucester and James City Counties, with two more to come. Overall, Dominion boasts the second-largest solar fleet in the U.S. including 30 operational solar farms in the Commonwealth and two dozen more in development.

“They’ll generate enough power in total to power 2.4 million homes at peak output,” Eberly said.

The aggressive pivot to renewables like solar and wind is spurred by 2020’s Virginia Clean Economy Act requiring Dominion to generate 100% of its electricity from such sources by 2045.

“Every one of these moves us closer to our goal,” Eberly said.

While Dominion does have a trio of solar installations in Chesapeake and Virginia Beach, population density in Hampton Roads leads solar developers to look for greener pastures in more rural areas like James City County.

That focus, though, has faced some hurdles in 2023. James City County’s Board of Supervisors in April placed a hold on new large-scale solar projects until March 2024 at the latest. 

Supervisor Sue Sadler noted resident concerns about water run-off, potential pollutants from oil coolants and the loss of prime farmland in calling for the hold. 

Sharing those is Darlene Prevish, founder of the advocacy group Save Rural James City County. Prevish is not opposed to any and all solar development, but hopes the county will seek a balance between development and preserving local agricultural land. 

“What we want to do is have some think tank type of groups that work with the Supervisors to think of other ways to use the land so the [owning] family can profit from their land, but maintain some kind of a rural feel,” Prevish said.

At a March Board of Supervisors meeting, Sadler proposed the county create a policy for future solar projects that is in line with the goals of their 2022 Natural and Cultural Assets plan “hopefully addressing safeguards to protect our natural resources long-term.”

A draft county policy guiding large-scale solar projects that limits their size, placement and discourages impact to prime or recently farmed agricultural land of developments will have a public hearing in early 2024. 

In the meantime, Dominion continues their work to expand their renewables portfolio as final ground work wraps up at Winterberry and Norge. 

Operations and Maintenance Supervisor Tim Simmons said once that’s done, operations will entail around the clock remote monitoring, weekly on-site inspections and monthly environmental inspections from EPA inspectors. Solar panels generate direct current (DC) electricity which must be converted to the alternating current (AC) electricity of the power grid, requiring solar inverters.

“They have transformers on them, which are cooled by oil,” Simmons said. “So we make sure there are no leaks ... and we have spill kits in case there’s anything that happens.” 

Winterberry and Norge will generate power for Virginia homes over the next 25 to 30 years, the expected lifespan of solar farms. At that point, near the year 2050, Dominion will have a decision to make.

“It’s very possible when we decommission this farm, if we end up decommissioning, that it would revert back to agriculture use and could go back to Virginia’s farming community,” Eberly said.

The world changes fast.

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