Microgrids expand in Virginia with two new projects

Following a trail blazed by a large dairy plant, a private college and a U.S. defense agency have collectively embarked on the second and third microgrids in Virginia while overcoming challenges integrating with their utilities.

Eastern Mennonite University in Harrisonburg and the U.S. Defense Logistics Agency at the Fort Belvoir Army base in Northern Virginia are the latest organizations to embrace the benefits of generating, if needed, all of their power needs independent of the local utility. The first microgrid in the state began operating in 2015 at an HP Hood dairy plant in Winchester.

Dairy producer HP Hood

For HP Hood, one of the largest dairy producers in the country, the concept of a microgrid initially wasn’t embraced either by the company’s senior officers or its local utility, according to Dennis McNutt, the company’s director of facilities. He said his officers “pushed back on it quite a bit. They didn’t want to add complexity to something that already was a complex system.”

As for the utility, the Shenandoah Valley Electric Cooperative, “there was a learning curve on their side,” McNutt said. “At first, they didn’t quite understand what we were trying to do.”

Together with its project developer, ZF Energy, McNutt assessed its value by estimating what a loss of power would cost the company. That would mean re-sterilizing the dairy operations each time requiring 8-12 hours to recover. “We have a lot of controls to prevent bacteria from spoiling our products. You need real-time monitoring on all of that.”

Five months after the microgrid was tested and deployed in 2015, HP Hood experienced a power outage when one of the co-op’s transformers shut down. “I got the message on my cell phone saying the plant was in ‘island mode,’ separate from the grid. That was an exciting message to get,” McNutt said. “The plant didn’t even know it happened.”

With 15 megawatts of natural gas-fired generators, HP Hood has enough capacity and the to sell power it doesn’t need on any given day into the PJM regional wholesale power grid, which Virginia is a part of. The company also wanted its microgrid to be able to buy low-cost power from the PJM market, but state regulators rejected that request, citing a state law requiring any such purchases only from the co-op.

Read more (Southeast Energy News)