The largest solar energy project in Southwest Virginia is nearing
completion at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Salem.
On what used to be a landfill on the eastern edge of the hospital campus, 6,000 solar panels are being installed.
The panels will convert sunlight into as much as 1,620 kilowatts of electricity -- enough to provide about 10 percent of the power to the sprawling VA complex.
Officials expect the system to be operational by late October or early November, Salem VA spokeswoman Ann Benois said.
The $5 million project is part of a larger initiative by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs to rely more on solar energy at veterans hospitals across the country.
Because the six-acre field of solar panels used to be a landfill, special environmental precautions were taken.
The panels sit atop a "floating system" of supports that does not penetrate the ground below them, the Salem VA said in a news release.
Facing south, the panels are positioned to catch the most energy the sun can provide. And their ground-level location -- as opposed to rooftops for most solar projects -- is expected make maintenance easier.
The scope of the project dwarfs other solar energy projects in the region, including a 450 kilowatt system atop two buildings at Washington and Lee University and a 103 kilowatt system that sits on the roof of a Virginia Tech parking garage.
(c)2013 The Roanoke Times (Roanoke, Va.)
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