Town’s solar power field nears completion

David Jenkins, interim director of Energy Services for the Town of Front Royal, walks along this line of solar panels on this 15-acre tract off Manassas Avenue in Front Royal on Wednesday. Rich Cooley/Daily

FRONT ROYAL – Solar energy could start helping the town power homes this spring.

American Municipal Power Inc.’s project, a 3-megawatt generation solar field, is designed to add energy to the town’s grid. The field should provide enough energy to power approximately 350-400 homes, officials with the project have said.

Interim Director of Energy Services David Jenkins said Wednesday that he expects crews to complete construction of the solar farm later this month and start up the facility the first week of April. Workers with Power Secure broke ground on the project in mid-November. Power Secure hired local residents to work on the project, Kull said. His crew consisted of seven electricians and six laborers. Subcontractors also had crews on site.

The field is composed of 10,523 solar panels – each panel measures 6 feet by 30 inches – installed across the 15-acre site. The town leases the property to AMP, which will run the solar field. AMP also can monitor the facility operations remotely to make sure the equipment runs properly. The town’s Department of Energy Services can also access information and see the facility via an internet site set up by AMP.

General foreman Larry Kull explained that the power generated by the panels goes into an inverter and then into the transformer, which transmits the energy into the grid.

This is an overhead view of the solar panel farm located on Town of Front Royal property off Manassas Avenue. Photo courtesy Power Secure

“It’s actually coming along pretty quick,” Kull said.

The solar-generated electricity gives the town an additional 13,000 volts it didn’t have to work with until now, Kull said. Groups of solar panels make up tables that, in turn, comprise a string.

Only a few 1,500-volt systems such as this operate in the United States, Kull said. Such a facility would pay for itself in roughly 10 years depending on usage with 1 megawatt powering approximately 150 to 160 homes, Kull said. Solar power technology continues to change, he noted.

Kull warned of the dangers of coming into contact with the equipment and pointed out that security features would keep out trespassers.

“So this here is nothing really to mess with,” Kull said. “It’s a 1,500-volt system. This’ll fry you from the inside out.

Jeff Harvey, of Winchester, digs out a ditch line at the Town of Front Royal's solar site off Manassas Avenue in Front Royal. Rich Cooley/Daily

“So once we get going and we start energizing or pulling our wires we’ll have a serious lock out,” Kull added. “You’ll see red all over the place. Just don’t go near it and don’t touch it.”

Front Royal, one of 14 municipal power providers in the state, serves more than 8,000 customers. The town participates as a member of American Municipal Power in projects designed to diversify Front Royal’s energy-supply portfolio and to reduce the risk of market volatility and uncertainty, according to information from the organization. The town participates in projects that create power from such sources as natural gas, hydroelectric and coal.

Contact staff writer Alex Bridges at 540-465-5137 ext. 125, or abridges@nvdaily.com