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Demand Relaxation of Limits on Solar Energy in Virginia: Support the 2019 Virginia Solar Freedom Bill

Throughout 2018, the dangers of climate change have become more immediate, with a series of devastating hurricanes, ever higher temperatures, and record-setting wildfires. A comprehensive report from a group of federal agencies was released over Thanksgiving weekend and described the dire risks in detail. (Summary.) Although carbon emissions are expected to rise this year after years of decline in the early 2010’s, the Trump administration has now announced that it plans to lift Obama administration rules requiring most new coal-burning plants to install carbon-reduction technology. While the federal government moves backwards, we must spur action at the state and local levels if the planet is to survive. One important step would be to relax existing restraints on the generation of solar power in Virginia. The Solar Freedom Bill to reverse or amend eight restrictions on solar generation will be introduced in the upcoming 2019 term of the Virginia legislature. Some of the limitations were sponsored by traditional utilities in order to make solar power more cumbersome and expensive – and thus less competitive – than their own power. Others were at least ostensibly based on technical concerns that have since been solved. None can be justified today. Because the proposed legislation would undo rather than impose regulation, it could attract sufficient Republican support to pass. Governor Northam would likely sign it. Cumulatively, these reforms would encourage production and use of significantly more solar energy in Virginia.

Summary of the LegislationSome of the proposed changes would reduce restrictions on the transport and allocation of solar energy. For example, local governments could install solar facilities on government-owned land and use the energy generated at schools and other government-owned buildings, even if they are not contiguous to the generation site. Customers could attribute output from a single solar array to multiple meters on the site or adjacent properties owned by the customer. Other proposed changes would allow increases in the total amount of solar energy generated. Importantly, the 1% cap on the total amount of solar energy that can be net-metered (or transferred into the grid) in a utility’s service territory would be lifted. Customers also could install a net-metered solar facility larger than required to meet their previous 12 months’ demand. The cap for net-metered non-residential solar facilities would be doubled from 1 to 2 megawatts. Finally, other proposed changes would make solar generation more economical. All classes of customers statewide could finance installation with power purchase agreements under which the generation facilities installed at a property are paid for by a third party, which thereby earns a tax deduction, while the property-owner can purchase the resulting solar energy instead of relying only on dirty power from the incumbent utility. Owners of a multi-family residential building also could install a solar facility on the building or surrounding property and sell the electricity to tenants. In addition, certain charges on residential facilities sized between 10-20 kilowatts would be eliminated.

What You Can DoThis legislation can pass if it generates popular support, but may not succeed without that support. You can help: Find out your state representatives here: Call your state Senator: Adam Ebbin: 571-384-8957; 804-698-7530 (Legislative Office when in session) (District 30) Barbara Favola: 703-835-4845; 804-698-7531 (Legislative Office when in session) (District 31) Janet Howell: 703-709-8283; 804-698-7532 (Legislative Office when in session) (District 32) Call your Delegate: Mark H. Levine: 571-234-8481; 804-698-1045 (Legislative Office when in session) (District 45) Patrick Hope: 703-486-1010; 804-698-1047 (Legislative Office when in session) (District 47) Rip Sullivan: 571-210-5876; 804-698-1048 (Legislative Office when in session) (District 48) Alfonso Lopez: 571-336-2147;804-698-1049 (Legislative Office when in session) (District 49) Urge them to work for passage in the 2019 term of all of the provisions of the Solar Freedom Bill. Take a day to visit your Delegate and Senator in Richmond in January or February. Take some friends with you. Schedule these visits with your elected officials in advance to maximize your chances of an in-person meeting with your official. Publicize the proposed legislation on social media and write a letter to your local newspaper about the Solar Freedom Bill.

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