For a solar electric system installer like us, state level policy is important. Laws can allow or prohibit different models of solar ownership, help or hinder solar projects on different sites, and can either set goals for future renewable energy deployment, or embrace the energy status quo.
In Virginia, the 2019 General Assembly session has been underway for less than a month, and committees have already done away with many of the solar-related bills we were watching, while others met defeat in full chamber votes.
Let’s breakdown the status of some of the bills of interest to solar supporters:
Phasing out fossil fuels in our electric system
Bills going by names like the OFF Act and the Renewables First Act aimed at reducing fossil fuel use for energy in Virginia, however both were deemed too aggressive and met with their demises during this past week.
Solar Freedom bills unsuccessful in 2019
Advocates for more customer-owned and customer-sited solar power across Virginia worked to advance an 8-point package of measures collected into one bill, with versions introduced in both the House of Delegates and State Senate, referred to as Solar Freedom legislation.
Among its strongest measures for supporting solar projects were:
- Ending the steep monthly standby changes that utilities can now impose in some cases where customers connect solar energy systems larger than 10 kilowatts to the grid, for homeowners and agriculture customers
- Allowing an electricity customer to use energy from a solar installation built and metered at another location, away from their own property
- Removing the limit to how much net metered solar can connect to the grid in total, now 1% in each utility’s service area
- Increasing the permissible size of net-metered solar projects from 1 MW max to 2 MW max, and letting energy customers size their new solar energy systems large enough to provide more than 100% of their previous year’s energy usage, so that customers will not have to expand systems later if their family grows or if they get an electric car or other major energy-using device later.
- Explicit legalization of third-party power purchase agreements, a method for financing solar power projects, statewide
Some critics of the bill argued that Dominion Power, for example, should continue to be able to assess standby charges on customers, even though Virginia’s solar adoption level is well below the point where any non-solar customers could be feeling significant costs associated with the utility crediting customers for the solar they contribute. Perhaps next year a more favorable committee membership makeup will be receptive to policies that encourage solar and remove barriers, so that more solar projects can happen in our communities, strengthening the grid and reducing reliance on conventional non-renewable resources.
Greenhouse gas emissions – multi-state partnerships
For those who followed the Virginia Coastal Protection Act last year, you may recall that Virginia is potentially either joining or becoming a monitoring member of the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, which could create proceeds from the value of carbon credits from the state. Delegate Toscano offered a bill to direct this capital to a fund for Shoreline Resiliency, and in spite of efforts of some Hampton Roads legislators to gain support for the bill it failed. In subcommittee, speakers testifying on behalf of the Dominion Power commented that they wished to see these funds go back to ratepayers.
Compromise victory: coop net energy metering expansion and some PPA types for coops
Virginia’s electric cooperatives often feel differently about solar policies like full-credit net energy metering and third-party financing via power purchase agreements than the investor owned utilities do. This paved the way for reform legislation touching on those areas to advance this week.
Though enacting the same measures for all utilities would have been preferable for a lot of solar advocates, this bill is a step in the right direction for electric cooperatives and particularly benefits schools, non profit organizations like churches, and farms.
Municipal net metering – that is, provisions for local governments to connect solar energy to the grid and receive a friendly system of credits from the utility in return – fared better this year and is moving ahead.
Every year, our legislators become better educated on these matters by meeting citizens of the Commonwealth who care about our future energy sources and their impacts on our society. You too can help members of the General Assembly learn the vital role of solar energy built in our communities, right where it will be used.
Stay tuned for a way to be involved, read more out our sustainability items here and if you have solar on your home we encourage you to take every opportunity to talk to people about your experience!