Solar energy not only contributes to environmental sustainability, but also makes economic sense from a statewide perspective. While our national government continues to tout the need to support the coal industry, solar is slowly making some inroads in the Virginia energy system. As our Solar Report Card shows, however, both lukewarm state policies and insufficient incentives still keep solar from being all it could be in our (mostly) sunny state.
A few facts to debunk some myths:
Jobs: Only 2,647 Virginians still work in coal mining while 4,338 work in solar energy and 1,260 in wind power—and employment in alternative energy is rising. (January 2017 U.S. Energy and Employment Report). The number of solar jobs in Virginia climbed by 65 percent between 2015 and 2016 and solar jobs grew 53 times faster than the overall state economy according to a report released by The Solar Foundation’s National Solar Jobs Census, which defines solar workers as those who spend at least 50 percent of their time on solar-related work. Alternative energy, and solar in particular, offers great employment opportunities for Virginia residents.
Cost: Dominion Energy’s latest integrated resource plan (IRP) for Virginia reveals that utility scale solar farms (20 megawatts and up) can produce electricity at a cost that beats coal, gas, and nuclear. Accordingly, Dominion is proposing a build-out of 249 megawatts of solar per year. Meanwhile, Amazon Web Services has been building 260 megawatts of solar in five Virginia counties to supply its data centers. And developers have proposed more than 1,600 megawatts of additional solar capacity in counties across the state. At the large-scale level, there is some growth.
What about the cost to the average homeowner? Unfortunately, while the Federal government offers a 30% income tax credit, VA is behind many other states in offering incentives for homeowners to go solar. Some counties and cities in Virginia, including Fairfax County, exempt solar energy equipment from local property taxes, but that’s about it. There is no income tax credit offered by the state of Virginia.
For comparison, Maryland residents get $1,000 when they purchase a solar system smaller than 20 kilowatts for their primary residence. Also, homeowners do not have to pay any extra taxes on the increased value of their home when they go solar and the purchase of the solar energy system is tax-free. According to Solar Power Rocks, an independent organization “committed to giving homeowners a clear picture of the policy, incentives, and investment returns on local solar panel installations.” payback time for 5-kW solar in Maryland is 10 years and the Investment Return Rate is 10.3%. Here is Virginia’s Solar Report Card.
RPS Law: Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) is a law used to require electric utilities to generate a certain percentage of electricity from renewable sources by a certain date. If a utility company fails to meet these goals, it can be subject to large fines. Virginia’s standard is 15% of base year (2007) sales by 2025. For more info about Virginia’s RPS: http://programs.dsireusa.org/system/program/detail/2528
Solar Carve-out: Part of a state’s RPS that sets a specific goal for electricity generation from solar panels. Virginia does not have a solar carve-out.
Net Metering: Billing mechanism that credits solar energy system owners for the electricity they add to the grid. For more info on VA’s net metering policies: http://www.deq.virginia.gov/Programs/PollutionPrevention/VirginiaInformationSourceforEnergy/DistributedGeneration/NetMetering.aspx
Battery Storage: Power producers face a constant challenge of supplying energy to match the ebb and flow of energy demand. Many people continue to hold the erroneous belief that solar power is too inconsistent to be reliable, i.e. when there is no sun there will be no power. According to Ivy Main, from Power to the People VA, several factors make the storage problem a non-issue in Virginia.
- First of all, we have a huge grid managed by independent operator PJM Interconnection that easily compensates for any “down” time. While solar makes up less than 1% of its electricity supply currently, PJM’s own March 2017 study concluded that its grid could handle up to 20% solar right now without any new battery storage, resulting in energy savings (see “cost” above) and a reduction in carbon pollution from the move away from coal and gas sources.
- Secondly, hidden in Bath County, Virginia, is the world’s largest “battery:” pumped storage provided by a pair of reservoirs generating over 3,000 megawatts of hydropower that PJM can use to balance out supply and demand.
- Finally, actual batteries are also an option since their price has dropped by half since 2014. Solar-plus-storage combinations now compete with new gas plants that run only when there is a high demand (“gas peakers”) and batteries can also be paired with solar to form microgrids for emergency use during widespread outages.
Considering solar? Contact Solarize NOVA, a non-profit, community-based outreach initiative that brings solar power to people in their homes and businesses in Northern Virginia. They will answer questions, help find a qualified solar installer, and perform a free solar satellite assessment. http://solarizenova.org/
Keep on top of energy legislation in Virginia at https://powerforthepeopleva.com/
Help Clean Fairfax in its mission to keep Fairfax County green and sustainable!