Virginia’s high ‘minimum bill’ payment would sink shared solar program, advocates say

virginia

The Virginia State Corporation Commission is crafting final rules for the Commonwealth’s new shared solar program, but solar advocates say the latest proposal would sink the bi-partisan approved program before it begins.

The State Corporation Commission’s (SCC) Hearing Examiner has proposed a requirement for residential customers to pay a $55 “minimum bill” each month to Dominion Energy as a condition for participating in the program.

This minimum bill would be the highest in the nation.

How does it normally work? Successful shared solar programs in other markets provide energy cost savings for residential customers across income brackets, in addition to farmers, businesses, municipalities, non-profits, and any other electric customer interested in reducing their electricity costs while participating in clean energy. It also creates jobs and sparks economic development, while providing a stable passive revenue source for landowners that lease their land for solar arrays.

“Virginia’s shared solar program started accepting project registration applications just six months ago. After over a year of heavy stakeholder engagement to get the program rules established, there is high anticipation and excitement about the opportunity this program would create for Virginia and its residents,” said Charlie Coggeshall, Director, Policy & Regulatory Affairs for the Coalition for Community Solar Access. “The Hearing Examiner’s report flies in the face of this anticipation and threatens to undermine the success of the program, derailing investments in the Commonwealth’s economy and locking out thousands of consumers and businesses. The SCC has an important opportunity to hit ‘reset’ on this proposal and establish a fair program before it’s too late.”

Shared solar vision | Virginia’s shared solar legislation permits the development of small-scale solar arrays to which multiple customers can subscribe and receive a credit on their utility bill for their share of the power that the solar panels produce.

Senator Scott Surovell sponsored SB 629 to establish Virginia’s shared solar program. “My 2020 shared solar bill passed envisioned a program where energy customers could access renewable energy at a reasonable cost and a reasonable minimal bill is essential if these programs are going to attract customers,” Surovell said.

The shared solar law included the ability for regulators to set a minimum monthly bill—a fixed cost charged to subscribers—that would account for the costs of implementing the program and for use of the utility’s grid infrastructure.

Instead, the Hearing Examiner’s report proposes a volumetric minimum bill that will dramatically limit participation from any subscribing customer, according to CCSA. Additionally, the report does not include potential benefits shared solar projects bring to the grid and to all ratepayers such as decreased transmission and power generation costs.

“The cost of solar energy has fallen dramatically in recent years, and the shared solar legislation passed in 2020 envisioned a program where the Commonwealth’s residents could benefit directly from this innovation by lowering their electric bills,” said Ron Butler, Executive Director of Conservatives for Clean Energy. “This minimum bill proposal of $55 or higher will kill the economics of the program by unfairly raising costs to the consumer, harming those the General Assembly intended to help. Additionally, this will hurt landowners looking to secure their financial stability through lease payments for shared solar project sites. Virginians need the Commission to course correct so that all Virginians have the opportunity to benefit from the clean energy economy.”

“This proposed minimum bill will undercut Virginia’s shared solar program before it even fully gets off the ground,” said Apex Clean Energy President and CEO Mark Goodwin. “A successful shared solar program will help Virginia make significant strides toward a new energy economy that will generate high-paying jobs and new opportunities for a diverse economy in the Commonwealth, set a precedent for other states to follow, and ensure that all Virginians can participate directly in the state’s clean energy transition. The stakes are high, and the SCC must get this right.”

The comment period for the minimum bill proposed by Dominion Energy closes on March 9.

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