Virginia is for Solar Lovers

This week our class takes a closer look at Virginia electric rates, solar incentives, and policies. Using our handy search tool, we learn that Virginia has a property tax exemption for solar. However, this tax exemption does not apply to residential solar property. It’s always upsetting to find solar policy which prioritizes corporations over consumers, but it may be some comfort that property tax is relatively low in the state. Local property taxes may offer additional exemptions to all customer classes.

On the bright side, Virginia offers one of the better net-metering options in the country, applying an “unlimited” roll-over of net-metering credits to solar arrays up to 20kW for residential and 1MW for commercial. Net-metering also applies to local cooperatives. I wonder how the TVA regions of Virginia respond to this request? However, solar owners should hurry fast with their projects – the program is capped at 1% of Virginia’s peak electric load. Agricultural customers can aggregate contiguous properties into a single net-metered array.

Since 2013, Dominion Power has offered a 5 year purchasing contract for solar at roughly ~30% above the retail price of electricity. The program is limited to 3MW total but they still seem to be accepting applications. Because the electricity is sold to the utility rather than net-metered, it isn’t a substantially better program for residential customers, but commercial business owners on demand-rate structures may want to look into development opportunity.

Virginia has a voluntary renewable goal for its utilities to be 15% renewable by 2025. This goal should be met easily enough. I would caution voluntary renewable energy buyers to perform their due diligence when signing up for their utility’s green choice plan. Under voluntary rather than mandatory renewable portfolio standards, the RECs purchased for utility compliance can sometimes be resold to voluntary customers, effectively allowing utilities to push their environmental responsibilities onto environmental altruists who may not fully understand that they are picking up the tab for their utility’s green energy compliance.

Also, Virginia prevents HOAs from banning solar, as well as allowing homeowners to file solar easements to protect the horizon view to their solar array.

In short, Virginia has good solar policies in place and solar industry growth is only being held back by its average electricity pricing – a good problem to have.  Customers should check with their power company for demand-based or time-of-use based rate structures, which can make battery-based solar arrays more valuable than the more widespread batteryless solar designs while also providing a source of backup power during any outages. For business owners whose demand is above 50kW on Dominion’s service, demand charges are approaching $15/kW which is a good signal for a strong battery market. While there are both time-of-use and demand time-of-use rates available for residential customers, none seem particularly beneficial compared to the basic rate plan, given Virginia’s generous net-metering policy.



Bosch recalls 245W panel from 2011-2013

Bosch is recalling a 245W solar panel sold from 2011-2013 to commercial solar installers. Evidently, poor soldering of the cells is to blame. No related fires have been reported, but I suppose preventing future fires is the entire point of a recall. The panels are made in South Korea. Here is the recall notice.