By Jabari Baker and Daniel Chiotos

Baker is business development manager and Chiotos is energy efficiency director and solar PV consultant for Mountain View Solar based in Berkeley Springs, West Virginia.

Virginia’s state government should put the pedal to the metal (of an electric vehicle) on solar policy. The state has made great strides with developing solar in all corners, and now we can build on that momentum with the Solar Freedom Bill that has been introduced in this 2020 legislative session.

We with Mountain View Solar have been building solar on Virginia homes, schools, businesses, non-profits, and more for the past ten years with a focus on Northern Virginia and the Shenandoah Valley. We also have been working one-on-one with Virginia homeowners and have seen the impact of current solar restrictions in Virginia.

We know solar works in Virginia because we’ve been building it. We know that solar creates good jobs because we’ve been working it. We know that solar generates reliable electricity because we’ve been monitoring it. We know that solar’s intermittent nature can be adapted for reliability with batteries because we’ve been installing them. We also know that Virginia has incredible potential to expand this industry and clean electricity generation with the right policies.

The Solar Freedom Bill is a collection of policies that will move our state and our industry forward, if passed. This collection is centered on the idea that Virginians should have the ability to choose their sources of energy by removing the utility-friendly red tape that restricts solar development. Every policy within this package would expand Virginians freedom to choose solar.

The “freedom to” go solar is summarized below:

n Remove the cap of 1% of a utility’s electricity generation that can come from net metered solar

n Remove the Pilot Program limits on Power Purchase Agreements, we are particularly excited about the potential of this mechanism to deploy solar in the commercial, non-profit, and governmental world

n Allow local governments to use their best space to install large scale solar and direct generation to nearby government facilities

n Allow property owners to aggregate their meters so a single installation on the property owner’s best location can offset their entire electricity usage of multiple meters

n Allow homeowners to install systems large enough to supply their expected increased electricity usage in the case of buying an electric vehicle or expanding their home

n Allow larger commercial projects by raising the project size cap from 1-megawatt to 2-megawatts for net metered projects

n Remove the standby charge which unnecessarily penalizes homeowners who install large solar arrays to offset larger electricity usage. We should reward, not penalize, homeowners who invest in solar.

This collection of freedom-to-go-solar policies, among many other policies that would expand Virginia’s clean energy economy, represents a key pathway to improve our state. In just one example from the above list, currently Dominion residential customers who have higher electricity usage that needs to be offset by a larger solar array are penalized for adding more solar through expensive standby charges. Simply removing these standby charges, as this legislation would do, would make currently infeasible larger residential projects feasible for Virginia homeowners.

This Solar Freedom policy package, in addition to the many other positive pro-solar policies proposed this session, provides many of the mechanisms we in the solar industry need to properly deploy solar at the local level. Side by side with incentives, simply making sure that homeowners can use solar in the right way on their own property would be a step in the right direction. Simple, seemingly small, changes such as allowing homeowners with multiple meters to aggregate their meters to a single solar installation provides the right set-up for homeowners.

We and many other businesses across our state are expanding solar from a small rooftop ten panel installation to a giant open field installation of ten thousand panels. Solar is here, but can grow quicker in our state. Virginia’s state legislature simply needs to open the door with the Solar Freedom Bill so Virginians have the best ability to choose solar with the least unnecessary restrictions.

We call on all Virginia delegates and senators to back the Solar Freedom Bill in the 2020 legislative session.

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