CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- A proposal to build three solar-energy fields in Fayette and Greenbrier counties could create West Virginia's first utility-scale solar electrical generation capacity, but the project appears to be in the early stages and is getting little attention.
New York-based Solar Thin Films Inc. is working on plans for up to 35 megawatts of generation capacity at the three sites at Alderson, Crawley and Fayetteville.
In late July, Solar Thin announced an "agreement in principle" with a local landowner to design and build the $140 million project. Then, two weeks ago, Solar Thin said it had signed a contract on Sept. 13 for the solar fields.
"We think it's a great project," Solar Thin CEO James Solano said Wednesday. "We think it will really benefit West Virginia."
Jeff Herholdt, director of the state's Division of Energy, learned of the Solar Thin project when a reporter inquired about it. "This is news to us," Herholdt said.
Nationally, solar energy remains a tiny share of total U.S. electrical generation, but solar generation was projected to increase by 81 percent in 2013 and 76 percent in 2014, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.
The capacity of the three sites proposed by Solar Thin is relatively small, especially compared to a large coal-fired power plant like American Electric Power's John Amos, which has a capacity of 2,900 megawatts.
Still, Herholdt said West Virginia doesn't have any utility-scale solar generation facilities, and that Solar Films is talking about making "a substantial investment" in the state.
"This would be an unprecedented development," Herholdt said. "This would be an amazing energy development for West Virginia."