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More access to clean solar power for Virginians

Opinion

Last week, the State Corporation Commission (SCC) approved an innovative solar program proposed by Dominion Resources, a project that will enhance consumer choices and facilitate clean, renewable energy production for many Virginians.

As Virginia implements the Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Power Plan, the state’s utilities  need to transition to systems that reduce carbon emissions and deliver reliable, affordable power to  homes and businesses.

Carbon-based energy sources like coal are the largest contributors to global climate change. Traditional fossil fuels can also produce mercury and ozone pollution.  We have some of the unfortunate consequences of coal-powered electricity right here in Northern Virginia.  At Possum Point near Dumfries and Quantico in Prince William County, there are coal ash dumps in the form of five ponds near the Potomac River.  Coal ash is well known to leech lead, boron and hexavalent chromium into ground water. This type of “storage” can also result in massive pollution spills. 

Natural gas is another alternative, but it too emits carbon dioxide when burned.  And producing natural gas by fracking is well-documented to cause ground water pollution and can even cause water to catch on fire.  In addition, the infrastructure to transport natural gas requires pipelines and condemnation or forfeiture of private property. 

Solar energy does not have these shortcomings.  Due to declining manufacturing costs as factories achieve economies of scale, solar power has increasingly become the preferred energy source of choice for many homes, businesses and utilities.  Solar also promotes individual freedom as Virginians can live off the grid and produce their own power on their own terms. 

Unfortunately, existing Virginia law only allows a customer to net the energy generated by a solar panel directly against a meter connected to the panel.  This means that solar is not available to everyone. 

Solar is usually not economical for homes in neighborhoods with significant tree cover.  Also, it is usually not available if you do not own your roof, such as apartment or condominium buildings.  Most businesses hesitate to make a significant investment in solar if they do not own their roof and most landlords are not incentivized to install solar because the tenants pay the electrical bills.   

Making solar more available

Given these obstacles, one solution I have championed over the last six years has been what’s commonly referred to as community solar or “solar gardens.”   Some states allow groups of consumers or businesses to pool their capital, construct solar panels on a third party’s property and then collectively net the energy generated by the panels against their individual meters.  This is a net win for individuals, businesses and the third party who can receive more return on their property.  However, Virginia’s investor-owned utilities have consistently opposed this because it undermines their monopoly. 

Because of our pressure, Dominion recently received approval to construct two megawatts of solar panels which they will resell to consumers and businesses in 100 kilowatt (kw) chunks for approximately $4 per month.  Each consumer or business will be allowed to purchase up to 400kw.  This means that customers in Dominion’s territory will be able to purchase solar energy and net it against their home meter. 

Last March, I was proud to partner with Dominion in announcing their application for SCC approval.  On August 7, 2015, the SCC approved this plan. Dominion can now move forward.

While I still believe that the best solution is allowing groups of individuals or businesses to do this independently, Dominion’s program is a great advance that will provide consumers with more choices and the ability to choose less-polluting, renewable energy if their homes or businesses are not ideally suited.

You can read the SCC’s approval order and Dominion’s “Frequently Asked Questions” flyer about this program at scottsurovell.blogspot.com

*Delegate Scott Surovell is currently running for Virginia’s 36th Senate district seat.

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  • Really?

    SHUT-UP, no one wants to hear about stupid hybrid tax breaks or solar power garbage.

    You need to concentrate on what really matters to the citizens living along the route one corridor and that is improved transportation and showing the ability to attract high paying jobs to the area. The district you are running for is smack in the middle of two major military bases and who knows how many Federal Government office buildings, if you can’t convince anyone to move into that area, then you obviously are not the right person for the job.

    We do not need another Senator asleep at the wheel like your buddy Toddy Puller was.

  • Bridget Kelley-Dearing

    We absolutely want to hear about renewable energy options. Climate change is one of the biggest threats and challenges our generation will face in our lifetimes. It will effect food production, water availability, migration and eventually even wars from nations struggling for all of these resources. It also effects our pocketbooks which everyone except the 1% are concerned with.

    • whatever

      Take off your tinfoil hat Bridget, the “U.S. 1 Communities” don’t have time to wait for the icebergs to melt. We need solutions now and we need our elected officials (especially the ones in Richmond) to have a laser focus on only two things, jobs and roads to take us back and forth to said jobs.

  • Real Solar Only

    We need real solar options in Virginia, including true community solar opportunities. The deal that Dominion is proposing isn’t that. Dominion would be charging customers a higher rate to support its Solar Partnership Program, which it would then sell the solar power and corresponding renewable energy credits to other customers (not the folks paying for it). Read this real analysis to understand more: http://www.theenergycollective.com/ivy-main/2270038/dominion-offer-community-solar-minus-community-and-solar

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