DULLES, Va. — Virginia just took a big step toward turning Dulles Airport into a large-scale solar farm. If it’s built, it will be the biggest airport solar generation and storage facility in the U.S., according to a Dominion Energy spokesman.
Dominion reports the project will be capable of producing 100 megawatts, which is enough solar electricity to power more than 16,000 homes.
The Dulles solar project was among 15 sites throughout Virginia that were approved Tuesday by the State Corporation Commission (SCC), 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 Board received a recommendation Wednesday to approve the project from airport managers who have studied the proposal. The proposal must still be reviewed by the Federal Aviation Administration and other federal authorities before it can be built, according to the report from airport staff.
The FAA will review whether or not glare from a future solar farm might impact flight safety, according to the report.
Princeton University Center for Policy Research on Energy and the Environment professor Jesse Jenkins said airports are drawing a lot of interest from solar developers.
"Airports make a lot of sense for siting of solar," Jenkins said. "They're usually close to where we consume electricity near our urban areas. The land is already reserved - large areas of land - with security perimeters around them already, and that makes them a really logical place to develop solar.”
The Dulles site would be 835 acres and could be completed by 2024, according to the Airport Authority's 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 U.S. Energy Department official Samantha Gross, who is now a researcher at the Brookings Institution.
"People think about solar as being all positives," Gross said. "But it does use up a lot of land, and it's especially concerning when it uses up land that's important for other uses being residential development or farmland."
Gross said the Dulles proposal is "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 pods of batteries that appear similar to steel shipping containers.
“We all know that solar only produces electricity when the sun is shining," Ruby said. "So when we build solar, we need an ability to store solar during the day, so that we can generate electricity at night because our customers require electricity 24/7 around the clock.”