DMME Director John Warren joined Deputy Director Butch Lambert and staff at the agency’s Big Stone Gap office to turn on the ceremonial switch to the building’s rooftop solar array.
The collection of 384 panels, along with conduit, cabling and inverters to turn the system’s direct current into alternating current, has been operating since March after a six-week installation process, according to Joe Moore of Charlottesville, Virginja-based project designer and installer Altenergy.
“It was just a fun and good project to work on,” Moore told the audience at Tuesday’s ceremony. “It’s projects like this that DMME can use to help legitimize solar power to others.”
The rooftop system can generate a maximum of 180,000 kilowatt hours of power annually, Moore said, and that translates to enough power to supply 15 homes each year.
For the DMME facility, Moore said, the system can supply up to 40 percent of the building’s power needs.
Warren said the application of solar power reminded him of a line in the movie “Oh Brother, Where Art Thou?”, where the Depression-era Rural Electrification Administration expanded electrical service to rural areas.
“Instead of ‘We’re electrifying the South,’ we can say we’re solarizing the Southwest,” Warren said. “Here, it’s taking electrons right off the meter and saving us money off of our utility bill.”
Warren said the implementation of solar power at DMME and other state facilities complements coal, natural gas and the potential for geothermal energy systems in Southwest Virginia.
“Coal is about energy and DMME is about energy,” Warren said.
With an announcement of a planned solar energy field project in late July at the Mineral Gap Data Center in Wise County’s Lonesome Pine Technology Park, Warren said that project and DMME’s Big Stone Gap system show the potential for more data center development and location in the region.
“We’re looking forward to taking off with this and using it to help with economic development, Warren said.
DMME Energy Team project manager Nick Polier said three more solar power projects are in the works for state Game and Inland Fisheries and Department of Forestry buildings in central and northern Virginia. Five other projects have been fitted to other state facilities including the Department of Corrections and Department of Juvenile Justice.
Polier said the solar projects also fit in with the commonwealth’s 2018 energy plan, which calls for increased use of renewable energy sources and reduced power use in state buildings.
Installation of the DMME system coincided with a replacement of the almost three-decade-old building’s roof, Moore said. The roof did not require any penetrations for the system, with all cabling and conduit run over the roof edge and down the outside rear building wall.
Since the power feeds directly into the building’s electrical system, Moore said, it is more efficient since there is no power loss like can be seen through transmission lines. Even when a brief period of cloudiness came over the building, Moore said the solar panels were still operating at between 85 and 90 percent of generating capacity.