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Appalachian Power to Explore Solar Energy - Some Urge More Development


The world is watching as political leaders meet in France, seeking ways to address climate change.  In Virginia, Appalachian Power, which services just under a million people here, has announced its plan for fuel sources going forward.  For the first time, it includes solar power.  While clean energy advocates applaud the change, they’re concerned it doesn’t go far enough.

Appalachian’s Power’s 15-year look ahead plan would increase renewable energy to 6% of its fuel mix. Far less than already exists in neighboring states with similar terrain and climate suitable for solar. Hannah Wiegard is Virginia campaign coordinator of Appalachian Voices, urging more development of cleaner energy.

“There is a sense that we get from looking at the plan that Appalachian Power has capped its investments in solar at an artificially low level.” 

Wiegard says, not only is the capacity for solar energy generation huge here, but that it’s also the kind of investment that will attract new businesses to the area

“It’s important to realize that the technology is proven at this point and considering whether we’re locking our region into decades of further dependence and being hooked on a certain fossil fuel sources or if we’re able to harness fuel sources that are free like the sun and wind **

John Sheppelwich, spokesman for Appalachian Power says the company has steadily been cutting its percentage of coal power.  There are no coal plants operating inside Virginia after the last one was retired earlier this year but most of that power has been replaced with natural gas, another fossil fuel.

“Its’ not an easy thing for us to buy, sell, purchase, build generation over a short period of time.  There’s property purchases, there are regulatory filings and all of that.  So what were’ doing right now is taking those steps that we need to take to star increasing the diversity of our energy portfolio and changing it up.  We know that is what’s going to happen and that is what’s coming.”

Sheppelwich says the company is seeking to keep energy prices affordable and that means looking at what’s known as demand side management and increased energy efficiency before looking to purchase new solar capacity and he notes, Virginia customers already get some of their electricity from wind power, generated mostly in Indiana.  He says coal was once 90 percent of AEP’s fuel source, it’s now about 75% and it’s projected to drop to 60 percent with this new 15-year plan.

Tuesday, December 1st is the last day foronline public comment on Appalachian Power’s plan for energy sources over the next 15 years.  There’ll be one more opportunity for public comment, in person, December 8, at  10 a.m., at the State Corporation Commission's Courtroom in Richmond.

Robbie Harris is based in Blacksburg, covering the New River Valley and southwestern Virginia.
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