Virginia’s Community Solar Program

Date: 16 Nov 2023 | posted in: Energy, Energy Self Reliant States | 0 Facebooktwitterredditmail

Virginia’s state legislature formalized a Shared Solar Program in 2020 under section 56-594.3 of the Virginia Code. The shared solar program, which only applies to utility Dominion Energy, limits facility generating capacity to five megawatts with an overall program cap of 150 megawatts. At minimum, 30 percent of subscribers must be low-income. Third party subscriber organizations must register and apply for program capacity, which is awarded on a first-come, first-served basis. Subscribers, who must be customers of Dominion Energy, earn a credit toward their electricity bill.

In 2022, the Virginia Corporation Commission established a shared solar bill credit rate of $0.11765 per kilowatt hour — a value lower than Dominion Energy’s retail electricity rate. The program also requires a minimum monthly fee for subscribers, though it exempts those who qualify as low-income. The program began enrolling subscribers in July of 2023, and despite the poor credit value and high minimum fee, all 150 megawatts of capacity have been awarded to applicants.


Watch the top state community solar programs progress in our Community Solar Tracker.


Community solar in Virginia has been stifled by the influence of utilities that have successfully lobbied for uniquely restrictive measures, such as minimum monthly billing —  Virginia’s $55.10 minimum monthly fee is the highest of such fees in the country. Subscriber organizations must pay Dominion an additional fee of up to one percent of bill credit value in order to offer consolidated billing.

An additional 50 megawatts of shared solar program capacity may be approved contingent on at least 45 megawatts of capacity having been subscribed to by low-income customers.

Virginia’s Multi-Family Shared Solar Program

A separate program, called the Multi-Family Shared Solar Program, was also created in 2020 under 56.585.1:12 of the Virginia Code. This program is targeted towards buildings that house multiple families (e.g. apartments and condominiums) and is available to customers of Dominion Energy Virginia and Old Dominion Power. Under this program, any solar facility at a single location cannot exceed a capacity of 3 megawatts (or 5 megawatts in contiguous locations owned by the same entity). The solar facility must be located near the multi-family customers it serves.

The rules of the multi-family shared solar program are largely the same as the shared solar program, but subscribers must be multi-family customers of the utility and pay a monthly $16.78 administrative fee.

The 2017 Community Solar Pilot

The shared solar program established in 2020 replaced SB 1393, a community solar pilot passed by the Virginia state legislature in 2017. Under the pilot, Dominion Energy and Appalachian Power could purchase power from solar facilities constructed by third party developers. The utilities were to select community solar facilities through a request for proposal process, subscribe their own customers, and credit subscribers through a “voluntary companion rate schedule.” Essentially, the utilities would charge customers a premium for solar energy and Renewable Energy Certificates (RECs).

The pilot program was capped at 50 megawatts, but the Solar Workgroup of Southwest Virginia reported that neither utility built a community solar project in the first four years of the program. As of 2023, Dominion Energy reports having one project fully subscribed. Other than an obligation to cooperate with local officials and organizations to “facilitate” the subscription of low-income customers, there were no requirements in the pilot program relating to equity.

Appalachian Power was not included in the 2020 shared solar program and has no obligation to offer shared solar.

Community Solar at Rural Electric Cooperatives

When it comes to community solar, rural electric cooperatives are typically on their own — states do not force co-ops or municipal utility participation. Many electric cooperatives, through their contracts with suppliers, have limits on local electricity generation. Those without that limitation, however, may choose to offer community solar to their member-owners.

Three Virginia electric cooperatives (Rappahannock Electric Cooperative, Northern Neck Electric Cooperative, and A&N Electric Cooperative), which have run community solar pilots for years, requested in 2023 that the State Corporation Commission make their community solar programs permanent. BARC Electric, a consumer-owned cooperative, launched Virginia’s first community solar project in 2016.

Learn more about community solar in one of these ILSR reports:

Designing Community Solar Programs that Promote Racial and Economic Equity
Minnesota’s Solar Gardens: the Status and Benefits of Community Solar
Beyond Sharing — How Communities Can Take Ownership of Renewable Power

 

For podcasts, videos, and more, see ILSR’s community renewable energy archive.


This article was originally posted at ilsr.org. For timely updates, follow John Farrell on Twitter or get the Energy Democracy weekly update.

Featured photo credit: iStock

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Caroline Petterson is an Energy Democracy Intern supporting ILSR's research on community solar policy. She recently received a Bachelor's degree from UC Berkeley.

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