Will 2017 Be the Year for Solar in Virginia?
In 2016, a non-profit group called Ceres studied the nation’s top 30 electric utilities to assess their progress on environmental issues. It branded Dominion Virginia Power one of the four weakest companies when it came to energy efficiency, and ranked this state’s top electric company 23rd for production of power using renewable sources. This year, that could change as Dominion and its customers get serious about solar.
Sandy Hausman has that story.
When Governor Terry McAuliffe assessed the state of the state last year, he bragged to lawmakers about a growing commitment to clean energy.
“We have seen significant expansion of Virginia’s solar industry over the past three years, expanding from 18 megawatts of total capacity when I took office, to the 400 megawatts that have been announced during my administration,” he told lawmakers.
About 350 of those megawatts are tied to Dominion, which is putting arrays on open land, commercial and institutional buildings. President Bob Blue says the company is responding to the market.
“We have customers who are interested in solar, and we want to serve those customers,” he explains.
And, he says, Dominion needs more power.
“On a hot day in July, we need to generate about 20,000 or more megawatts, and we need it from a diverse fuel supply. Whether it’s renewables or natural gas or nuclear, all of those are valuable to us.”
State Delegate David Toscano adds that falling prices for solar panels and rising demand from companies considering a move to Virginia will fuel future growth.
"The price of solar, both for commercial and residential applications, is declining rapidly. Coal is dead as an energy resource. Dominion Power is not going to build any coal fired power plants any time soon," Toscano says. "They’re moving toward natural gas and, increasingly, toward solar.”
And many homeowners have installed solar panels on their rooftops. Richard Crissler is founder of SunDay in Charlottesville – one of 184 solar companies that employ nearly 2,000 people in Virginia.
“We really started with me and a pick-up truck and have since graduated to four full-time employees, and we have enough work to keep them busy year round,” he says.
Driving demand is a federal tax credit of 30-percent, a measure he says is popular with Democrats and Republicans alike.
“There’s a reason they call this industry the solar coaster," Crissler says. "It goes up and it goes down, but in the end these solar tax credits are very popular for both sides of the aisle, so there’s not a lot of incentive to kill those.”
Despite the state’s lack of incentives, the Solar Energy Industries Association predicts that over the next five years Virginians will install more than 11-hundred megawatts – 25 times more than over the past five years.