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Expanding Options for Solar in Virginia

Chesapeake Climate Action Network

Solar energy in Southwestern Virginia is expected to increase, now that the utility that serves the region, Appalachian Power, may be lifting long held restrictions on solar energy production on schools and government buildings. 

Schools and localities around the country are going solar, putting arrays on roofs or other structures to harvest energy from the power of the sun.  

But for years, the local utility in Southwestern Virginia blocked all solar energy projects on schools and local government buildings. Now Appalachian Power Company, which services the region, will make a change in its new contract to allow those entities to take advantage of power purchase agreements and net metering to build solar arrays in the region.

“It’s unfortunate that it took so long to get to this place, but we're really excited about the outcome and the potential for solar development on our schools and local governments throughout the region,” says Chelsea Barnes. 

Barnes is legislative director with the solar advocacy group Appalachian Voices and is part of the Solar Workgroup of Southwest Virginia.  “The small pushes along the way from our government officials, just regular people who want to see their community have more access to solar. Um, I think really made the difference. If the steering committee hadn't heard from the local governments and people in their communities that they cared about this issue, then it wouldn't have come up in the negotiations. Um, and certainly, yes, you know, the legislation helped to push it over the edge.

Governor Ralph Northam signed legislation in March, making it clear, local governments are eligible for the solar PPA pilot program expanded by last year's Virginia Clean Economy Act.

Barnes says she’s already getting inquiries from solar companies looking to develop renewable energy if Appalachian Power Company signs its new contract, word is, that’s expected to happen soon.

If APCO’s new contract is approved, it will open the door to solar on schools and municipalities in all the Appalachian Power’s service areas, according to a spokesperson for the utility.

Robbie Harris is based in Blacksburg, covering the New River Valley and southwestern Virginia.