Solar energy is one of the fastest growing energy industries in America. Across the country, homeowners, businesses and governments are investing in solar technologies as a climate-friendly — and increasingly affordable — solution to transition to clean energy. The solar industry now employs more Americans than the coal industry, and the price of solar panels has dropped a whopping 75 percent in the last five years alone.
Yet, Virginia is lagging behind. Our state has the lowest installed solar capacity in the Mid-Atlantic. While Maryland has already installed 161 MW of solar energy, enough to power more than 17,000 homes, and North Carolina has installed more than 627 MW of solar, or enough to power nearly 70,000 homes, Virginia has only about 10 MW of solar currently installed.
What’s holding Virginia back? Our largest utility companies — Dominion Virginia Power and Appalachian Power Company — have routinely blocked policies that would bring more solar to Virginia, and even pushed for policies that punish their customers for installing it.
Two Paths to Solar Power: Customer-Owned versus Utility-Owned
Solar power is growing nationally in two ways: 1) As individuals or groups of homeowners install solar panels on their own roofs to supply their homes with energy, known as customer-owned solar power. 2) As utility companies build large solar farms or solar installations that they own, whether it’s in partnership with large businesses or on their own property. This is utility-owned solar power.
Dominion Virginia Power and Appalachian Power Company (APCo) have gone to great lengths in Virginia to limit customer-owned solar while also blocking legislation that would hold them accountable to installing solar energy themselves.
Stop the Attacks on Customer-Owned Solar in Virginia
Dirty polluters feel threatened by the growth of solar and have used every trick to stunt its growth in Virginia, standing in the way of customers who seek to power their lives with pollution-free energy. By pushing Virginia’s General Assembly and utility regulators to pass a series of caps, taxes and other limits on customer-owned rooftop solar in Virginia, Dominion and APCo keep tight control over our power supply to the detriment of clean energy development and to the overall reliability of our electric grid.
Caps on Net-Metering
Net-metering allows homeowners and businesses with solar energy installed on-site (often on their rooftops) to feed electricity they do not use back into the grid. Customers are only billed for their “net” electricity use, and the energy they export to the grid helps serve nearby customers. Net-metering is a huge incentive to installing solar and improves grid reliability for everyone. Yet Virginia law restricts residential customers from net-metering with solar systems greater than 20 kilowatts, while placing a cap on non-residential customers.
We will continue to push to raise barriers on solar and make it more accessible to Virginians across the state, both in next year’s legislative session and at the grassroots level.
Excessive Standby Charges
Dominion has successfully petitioned the General Assembly and the State Corporation Commission for the ability to tax residential net-metering customers who have solar systems between 10kw and 20kw anywhere between $40 and $80 per month. Appalachian Power Company is currently seeking to levy a similar tax on its net-metering customers. Standby charges are a flagrant attempt to suppress the solar market and discourage homeowners from taking advantage of renewable energy resources.
Outlawing Solar Gardens
In some states, “solar gardens” can be established when a group of homeowners install one solar energy system and use its energy to power multiple nearby homes. This is illegal in the state of Virginia, as utilities have actively lobbied to prevent this practice in the state.
Set Mandatory Goals for Utility-Owned Solar
Virginia’s Renewable Portfolio Standard, or RPS, law is badly broken. Neighboring states of North Carolina and Maryland have laws in place that requires state utilities to invest in a minimum amount of solar energy in order to help spur development in the industry and reduce the state’s carbon pollution. Virginia’s RPS law is merely a voluntary standard, and utility companies are meeting its minimal, loophole-ridden goals primarily with old, out-of-state, and, in some cases, dirty energy sources. As a result, to date, Virginia has zero utility-scale wind or solar power.
Once again, both of Virginia’s utilities have lobbied to block a real RPS law that would require increasing investments in solar and other clean energy sources. This simple policy solution would add hundreds of new solar jobs in Virginia and result in a significant increase in the state’s solar energy production.
To get involved in the campaign to bring more solar energy to Virginia, contact Monique Sullivan, Field Director at Monique@chesapeakeclimate.org.