For the first time in history, the U.S. is on track to produce more electricity from renewable energy than from coal, according to a new government report. States around the country have been passing clean energy laws and Virginia did so earlier this year. But in southwestern Virginia coal country, there are caps on the amount of solar power that can be produced.
Even though Virginia Governor, Ralph Northam signed a law committing to one-hundred percent clean energy for the state by mid-century, not everyone is eligible to take advantage of the opportunity.
Tish Tablan is with the environmental group 'Generation 180.' They're looking for a new direction when it comes to creating electricity; down from the sun instead of up from underground coal. “The Virginia clean economy act and the solar freedom bill are two laws that were just signed by the governor” April 13, 2020. “And these new laws will throw the doors open for Virginians to access the benefits of solar energy,” Tablan says.
But she points out, that in southwestern Virginia, certain limits to generating solar power are being imposed by Appalachian Power on its customers. “That could shut the door again on localities trying to go solar and it will limit their ability to save taxpayer dollars and stretch their budgets.”
Those limits come in the form of cap on the amount of solar energy that can be generated on public buildings in the region, like schools, libraries, water treatment plants, and prisons. The limits apply only to these entities. Private companies and homes are not subject to the cap.
Chelsea Barns, New Economy Manager at Appalachian Voices opposes limits to solar production on public property. “We feel that schools and local government buildings should be allowed to use that capacity (to generate solar power) that's been set aside for all entities."
Barnes points out that while Dominion Energy, the state’s largest provider, does not cap renewable energy production on public buildings in its territory, Appalachian Power in southwestern Virginia does.
“Appalachian Power’s contract has provisions in it that do not allow for third party power purchase agreements,” known as P.P.As. That when a third entity installs solar electric panels on private land or property under a long-term contract, selling the entity electricity at a reduced rate.
According to Generation 180 this could save schools and other public entities millions of dollars over the term of contract.
Barnes say capping the “total amount of net metering in Appalachian Power service territory for local government entities to three megawatts, total” is far too low. So low that it could be met if just one school in the territory were to go solar.
A spokesman for Appalachian Power confirmed that these limits are currently in place, but that negotiations on a new contract are underway now.
And while it’s not clear if anything might change regarding solar caps, when it comes to the new clean energy mandate in Virginia, Ronald Jefferson wrote in an email “We are supportive of the legislation and intend to fully comply with the applicable requirements in the Act."