Saturday, January 24, 2015

Solar Gets a Jumpstart in Virginia

There was big news on the Virginia renewable energy front this past week.

Virginia has been one of the slowest states to invest in solar or have any meaningful amounts of solar energy go live on its grid - either utility scale (big) solar installations or community level solar.  Earlier this week, Dominion Resources made a big announcement, but it barely received any press.  You can read their release here:

Press Release - Dominion Virginia Power Planning Commonwealth of Virginia's First Large-Scale Solar Project
First, they are building a utility-scale project that will be a 125-acre solar project in Fauquier County hearing Remington containing 90,000 panels that can power 5,000 residences.  This is a huge investment and a major commitment to renewable energy.

Second, they are also investing in community solar.  This is something that I have been fighting for over the last three years.  Current Virginia Law only allows Virginia homeowners to count the energy generated by a solar panel against their usage on a utility meter if it is connected to the system at their home - this is called "net metering."  Therefore, if you don't own your roof - apartments, condominiums, and small businesses - you cannot purchase solar power.  Also, if you live in an established community with significant tree cover - such as most communities near the Beltway - solar power just doesn't work.  Here's how you solve that problem. 

In other states, they allow "community net metering," where groups of people set up panels on a third-party's property such as a church, shopping center, or other building, and collectively net the energy usage against their meters. I introduced legislation to allow this under Virginia law since 2012 but it has failed each time (2012 - HB672, 2014 - HB1158). 

On Monday, Dominion announced that they are filing a proposal with the State Corporation Commission (SCC) to get permission to offer individual homeowners the ability to purchase solar energy from the company to net against their home meters.  This is how it will work:
  • The project will consist of 2 megawatts of energy somewhere in Northern Virginia.
  • It will be available to any residential or small business customer who has an electricity meter.
  • Participants can purchase up to five 100 kilowatt "blocks" of energy.
  • Blocks will cost $4.00 per 100 kw block per month (the average US home uses 940 kw/month).
  • The solar energy produced on each block will be netted against the customers actual usage to lower their bill.
  • There will be no long-term commitment.
  • Subscriptions will begin within 90 days of SCC approval. 
  • Dominion may file a proposal to expand the project.
A version of their Frequently Asked Questions document is below.  I was happy to participate with Dominion Resources, Governor Terry McAuliffe, and Delegates David Yancey, Marcus Simon, and Rob Krupicka in their announcement. 

Some of the advantages of this program are that it removes much of the administrative logistics associated with setting up a solar project from the consumer - it will be very easy to opt in and opt out. 
However, it is unlike projects initiated in other states.  Most other states allow third parties to set up community net metering arrangements.  Many in the solar industry argue that creates more jobs and helps further an alternate energy infrastructure that is more distributed instead of being concentrated at major facilities. 
While that debate will rage on, the important part is that several hundred customers in Virginia will now be able to choose to partially power their home with solar power.  If it is successful, then expansion will certainly follow. 
It's a first step. 

Dominion Community Solar FAQ


  1. Solar has come a long way in the past few years, Scott. Thank you for your commitment to this clean energy industry. Your consistent advocacy, despite resistance from Dominion in the past, has surely helped them understand we are here to stay, and indeed they are jumping on the clean energy wagon - way to go!

    Julie Hickman - President/CEO

  2. Fantastic news! Thank you for your efforts to increase solar power utilization in the Commonwealth.