In 2000, a renewable energy start-up took root in Charlottesville, a small city nestled in the rolling hills and mountains of Central Virginia. Back then, the city was best known for being home to the top-tier University of Virginia. But this start-up, Greenlight Energy, launched a trend that would create a name for the city in an entirely new industry.
Fast forward to 2004, and another company, AltEnergy, formed in Charlottesville. Columbia Power was established the following year. Coronal Energy incorporated in 2008, and Apex Clean Energy in 2009. Two years later came Sigora Solar. And in 2016, Sun Tribe Solar, Hexagon Energy, and Coulomb joined the ranks.
Collectively, these eight companies generate more than 2,700 megawatts of clean energy—enough to power a city 40 times the size of the one they call home, or well over half a million American homes. Across their portfolios, the companies have more than $6.5 billion worth of clean energy operating and in development.
Charlottesville’s best-kept secret is its thriving renewable energy sector.
Now, these eight thought leaders are aligning to champion a new effort: advocating for the growth of the renewable energy economy and building cities that embrace sustainable energy, starting right here in Charlottesville.
The companies are launching the Charlottesville Renewable Energy Alliance (CvilleREA), a coalition that Grey McLean, an environmentalist and founder of the Adiuvans Foundation, dreamed up.
“There’s a very entrepreneurial environment in Charlottesville that includes a vibrant cluster of clean energy companies,” says McLean. “As a group, these companies have a lot to offer—driving economic development and job creation, offering expertise to local policy makers, and supporting the sustainable ethos of the city.”
Within Charlottesville, members were already advancing the city’s sustainable mentality at a corporate level. Coronal Energy promotes healthy lifestyles, paying for marathons and races when employees sport their company jersey on race day. Apex Clean Energy offers incentives to employees purchasing electric vehicles (EVs) or powering their home with solar panels, and the company pays a stipend to those who elect to walk, bike, or carpool to work.
“Our next task, beyond encouraging even more Apexers to participate [in these programs], is bringing our city along as well,” says Mark Goodwin, president and CEO of Apex. “Together with this growing sector of clean energy companies based in Charlottesville, we are going to work to encourage other businesses to offer clean energy incentives, expand local accessibility to EV charging stations, scale up rideshare programs, and retool our downtown business district to welcome this movement.”
This sustainable mentality has been years in the making, but in Charlottesville, clean energy is no longer alternative. It’s no longer the future.
In the weeks since McLean’s vision took form, and even before its official launch, the Alliance’s impact is already apparent. The coalition is working with Piedmont Virginia Community College to develop a brand new solar and photovoltaic installer program that gives students hands-on field experience with these companies. The City of Charlottesville has already requested the Alliance’s input on solar zoning ordinances.
Looking forward, the coalition has its work cut out for it. CvilleREA aims to establish Charlottesville as the renewable energy hub of the Southeast, to advocate for the growth of the renewable energy economy, and to support the community’s transition to sustainable energy practices.
CvilleREA aims to establish Charlottesville as the renewable energy hub of the Southeast, to advocate for the growth of the renewable energy economy, and to support the community’s transition to sustainable energy practices.
In two or three or ten years, Charlottesville could be a very different city. You may rideshare into work each morning. Your daughter may text you a picture from her first week at college: walking to class with friends, eager smiles flashing amid a field of solar panels. You may notice more visitors on the Downtown Mall—all drawn to the Southeast’s hub for sustainable energy. You may actually be one of the hundreds, if not thousands, of Central Virginians working to keep the lights—in this city and others—turned on and powered by clean energy.
One thing is certain, though. In two or three or ten years, those differences will include more advancements and innovations toward a clean energy economy, thanks to the Charlottesville Renewable Energy Alliance.
This sustainable mentality has been years in the making, but in Charlottesville, clean energy is no longer alternative. It’s no longer the future. It’s here.