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Just how much should Virginians pay for solar energy?

Solar panels gather sunlight in Florida.
John Raoux
Solar panels gather sunlight in Florida.

The dynamics of how solar energy will work in Virginia is far from settled.

Not everyone can install solar panels on the roof. Some people and some businesses are renters. Others have buildings where it just wouldn't work. That's why Virginia has a pilot program that would allow for shared solar, letting people in one area take advantage of solar panels in another area.

Now state regulators are trying to determine what the minimum bill should be, and Ron Butler at Conservatives for Clean Energy says the proposed $55 minimum bill will undermine the pilot program.

"The State Corporation Commission is putting a regulation in that would eliminate the savings that you would enjoy by participating in the program," Butler explains. "And I think that it basically makes the program not viable."

Harry Godfrey at Advanced Energy Economy says regulators have a role to play to make sure customers are paying for the cost of the grid. But, he says, $55 is excessive.

"I think a good dollar amount is much closer to somewhere in the range of $7 to $10 as a minimum bill because keep in mind people folks pay that minimum bill, and then they still pay for the actual energy that they're using that's getting generated — certainly something much closer to that than the $55 amount that's been proposed here," Godfrey says.

A spokesman for Dominion Energy says the minimum bill needs to cover the cost of delivering power and generating electricity when solar is not operating. Regulators at the State Corporation Commission are expected to finalize that minimum bill in the next month or so.

This report, provided by Virginia Public Radio, was made possible with support from the Virginia Education Association.

Michael Pope is an author and journalist who lives in Old Town Alexandria.