Grover Palmer gave 39 years of service to Central Virginia Electric Cooperative before retiring in 2002. Now that service continues in a different way as Palmer and his family are letting the co-op use their farmland for a solar installation.
Named after the retired working foreman and his wife, Wanda, the 41-acre Palmer Solar Center broke ground last month as part of a pair of five-megawatt facilities that together comprise the largest co-op solar project in Virginia. Both installations will benefit some 36,000 members of the Lovingston-based co-op under a 25-year power purchase agreement and should be operational in January.
“Uncanny” is how Central Virginia Electric Co-op’s Melissa Gay described the connection between the facility in Troy and Palmer, who retired in 2002.
“We didn’t tell [developer Coronal Energy] to ask Mr. Palmer. He has a lot of land. It’s such a coincidence that they found him,” added Gay, the co-op’s communications and administrative services manager.
Solar developer Coronal Energy selected the 41-acre parcel—which the Palmers had contracted out for several years to corn and soybean growers—because of its proximity to critical co-op infrastructure and its flat ground, a rarity in the service territory, said Kyle West, a vice president at the power producer.
The company approached Palmer about leasing the land last year. “In my many years of solar development, this is the first time the landowner has been a former employee of the utility,” said West.
Palmer was front and center at last month’s groundbreaking. He, too, didn’t realize the co-op connection at first. “I guess it’s all right,” said the plain-spoken Palmer.
Palmer is another example of co-op longevity. “Co-ops in general often have loyal, long-serving employees, particularly among his generation,” said Gay. “When we celebrate employee anniversaries, it’s not unusual for five or six employees, out of 102, to be observing 20 or even 30 years.”
Victoria A. Rocha is a staff writer at NRECA.