Dominion Virginia Power said Monday it plans to substantially increase the amount of electricity it generates from solar power in the coming decades.
Virginia's largest utility laid out its long-range forecast of electricity demand and production in a regulatory filing called an integrated resource plan. The company said that despite the current uncertainty over whether Obama-era environmental regulations limiting carbon emissions will be undone, it plans to add at least 5,200 megawatts of new solar generation in the next 25 years. Previously, it had committed to generating 400 megawatts by 2020.
"For the first time, the subsidized costs of utility-scale universal solar power are expected to be low enough to make it a component of future generation additions at reasonable cost to our customers," Paul Koonce, CEO of Dominion Generation Group, said at a news conference.
Solar could eventually generate enough electricity to power 1.3 million homes during times of sufficient sunlight, the company said.
Dominion will continue moving to cleaner power sources with lower emissions whether President Barack Obama's Clean Power Plan, which sought to reduce carbon emissions from existing power plants and is tied up in lawsuits, "lives or dies," Koonce said.
Koonce emphasized that natural gas and nuclear energy would also play an important part of the company's formula.
"We believe this balance of solar, natural gas and nuclear hits the sweet spot in terms of cost, environmental performance and reliability for our customers," he said.
Overall, the company says its plan would reduce the carbon footprint of a typical customer by as much as 25 percent over the next eight years.
Robert Blue, CEO of Dominion Virginia Power, said making the switch to using more solar would take new infrastructure.
"To make widespread solar possible, it will require transforming the power delivery system to a two-way network that can accommodate these new sources of energy," he said.
Dominion officials said they didn't have details on what those infrastructure and other changes would cost or where solar panels might be installed.
Will Cleveland, an attorney for the Southern Environmental Law Center, said the announcement was a "pretty big improvement" when it comes to solar power. Virginia won't be a national leader but also "won't be lagging quite so far behind," he said.
But he questioned the need to expand natural gas operations, including the construction of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline.
The Sierra Club of Virginia said in a statement that the new solar capacity "pales in comparison to Dominion's massive investments in natural gas since the beginning of this decade, and its plans for even more gas generation in the future."
The plan was filed with the Virginia state Corporation Commission and the North Carolina Utilities Commission.
The utility serves about 2.5 million people, including some in North Carolina.