Gov. Terry McAuliffe joined Green Applications leaders and employees, Sun Tribe Solar staff and local officials to officially fire up a new 860 kilowatt roof mount solar energy system atop of the former American Press facility in Gordonsville.

Not long after he took office, Gov. Terry McAuliffe visited Gordonsville for a significant economic development announcement. Now, with only a week left in office, he’ll close out his term in much the same way.

McAuliffe and nearly 100 others gathered at Green Applications in Orange County Thursday for a ribbon-cutting, celebrating a new 860 kilowatt roof mount solar energy system atop of the facility. The system represents the largest net metered system in the state, the largest behind-the-meter Power Purchase Agreement in Virginia since Dominion started the pilot program and a shift toward more of Virginia’s manufacturers embracing solar power.

Green Applications opened its Gordonsville operation less than four years ago. The 170,000-square-foot facility was once home to longtime Orange County employer American Press.

When it opened in 2014, Green Applications vowed to be a regional employer. Today, the company employees 250 people with 50 fulltime positions still available, according to Dave Kilgore, COO of Green Applications.

With eight days left in office, the governor was excited to announce the company’s success, noting the nostalgia he felt returning to an operational facility that was empty during his first visit.

Green Applications is one of the largest printers and distributors of textile merchandise and heat-applied graphics on the East Coast. With environmental sustainability as one of its core values, Green Applications had always planned to incorporate renewable energy into the facility. This new project has made that vision a reality.

Green Applications’ array consists of more than 2,500 panels and will provide almost 50 percent of the facility’s energy usage. The array will produce an estimated 1,026,446kW per year, offsetting the building’s carbon footprint by 842 tons of carbon dioxide annually. The system was designed, engineered and installed by a Charlottesville solar company, Sun Tribe Solar.

Attendees who were brave enough to weather the winter winds joined the governor, as well as Green Applications and Sun Tribe Solar staff, on the facility’s roof for a ribbon-cutting ceremony to mark the project. Following the ceremony, guests were welcomed to tour the facility with staff, who explained the company’s equipment and printing and distribution operations.

“Green Applications started our operations in Orange County by making a commitment to this community to make a positive impact,” said Kilgore. “That meant creating jobs and being a responsible neighbor with respect to the environment. Working with Sun Tribe Solar, we were able to find a way to do that by incorporating solar, which also saves us money in utility costs. We are proud to have the solar array on our facility and to be part of the sustainability movement taking place in the Commonwealth.”

Gov. McAuliffe has made renewable energy one of his top priorities. In 2015, he established the VirginiaSAVES program, the first statewide Green Community Program.

Robert Butters, CEO of Green Applications, said the company is excited to be part of the governor’s VirginiaSAVES program, as well as fulfill its commitment to the community in terms of jobs and capital projects.

“This solar power project is a great example of how investment in renewable energy can have a positive impact on the environment, but also a long term financial impact by reducing our utility cost,” he said.

Since its creation, the program has created more than 900 jobs in renewable energy and generated more than $70 million in energy savings, the governor announced Thursday.

“Clean energy is one of the fastest growing industries in the Commonwealth, and is positioned to employ 38,000 Virginians and contribute nearly $300 million to state domestic product by 2030,” said Governor McAuliffe. “Renewable energy – including solar, wind and innovations in energy efficiency – are delivering clean and affordable energy to consumers across the Commonwealth, and I’m pleased that we are able to announce this landmark here in Orange County today. Projects like these are creating jobs of the future that will help grow local economies and create a better quality of life for families. Today’s announcement is a great opportunity for the Commonwealth to tout our leadership to advance energy efficiency and renewable energy generation in the new Virginia economy, and I thank Green Applications for partnering with VirginiaSAVES on this project.”

Although Dominion’s pilot PPA program has been in effect for three years, Green Applications is the first large-scale commercial entity to subscribe to it and has the largest behind-the-meter solar PPA system in the state to date.

Del. David Toscano (D- Charlottesville), who has advocated for renewable energy legislation at the General Assembly, was one of the speakers at Thursday’s ribbon-cutting ceremony.

“It’s cold out there right now, but that sun is shining and it’s generating a lot of electrons that are going into the grid and helping to power this facility and other facilities around the commonwealth,” he said. “This is going to be the future, I think, of solar energy in Virginia. ...

We’re going to continue to work really hard in this arena over the next couple years.”

He praised the governor for putting Virginia on the map of solar energy, noting its part in a new Virginia economy.

“When I took office, Virginia—believe it or not— only had 17 megawatts (mW) of solar—embarrassing. That was one of the lowest in the country,” McAuliffe said. “I’m proud today that we now have 2,600 mW of solar that have been installed or are under construction today. If you look at where we are today, it is the fastest increase anywhere in the United States of America. These are very important jobs for us. Our solar jobs last year increased 65 percent. We are a different state.”

In the past four years, 77,000 new jobs have been created in the renewable energy efficiency industry, the governor continued.

Sun Tribe Solar Co-Founder Taylor Brown said programs like VirginiaSAVES show the commitment that Gov. McAuliffe has made toward making Virginia a leader in clean energy, while also creating stable jobs locally.

“It is always great to be part of a ground-breaking solar project in Virginia,” said Taylor Brown, co-founder of Sun Tribe Solar. “But it is even better when we are able to help a company like Green Applications that really wants to improve the environment and help the community to figure out the best technical and financial situation to make it happen. It’s also great to see that the PPA program is finally gaining traction in Virginia, and we hope this will move other manufacturers to look into this as an option for making the transition to solar.”

Orange County District 5 Supervisor Lee Frame said “the supervisors’ recent approval for a solar farm and the Green Applications solar installation are also an indication that Orange County is embracing green energy and is a good place to do business.”

During his term, Gov. McAuliffe has visited Orange County four times—twice at Green Applications, as well as expansions at Lohmann Industries and Aerojet Rocketdyne.

“I am always glad to see the governor under circumstances like this,” Frame said. “Each visit results in better economic opportunities for our citizens either in jobs or in a larger tax base to hold their taxes down. When I mentioned to some of the other attendees that this was the fourth time that the governor had been to Orange County, they said that Orange County must be doing something right.”

Amber Galaviz writes for the Orange County Review

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