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A summer of clean energy progress ahead in Virginia

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Photo courtesy of Community Housing Partners.

Summer is upon us, which means a season of hot sun, blockbusters at the movies, and developments at the state and federal levels that could spell significant progress toward a clean energy system.

With the imminent release of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s final rule to limit carbon pollution from power plants and vigorous discussion about how to meet state goals, events are in motion that are sure to shape the future of clean energy deployment across Virginia. Here are a few snapshots of the policies and programs we’re watching:

Appalachian Power Company’s renewable generation pilot program

At the moment, there is no option for Appalachian Power Company’s Virginia customers to buy power from a third party that installs and owns a solar installation. Hurdles have existed in the past keeping the utility from offering such programs, while a pilot program remains open for qualified Dominion customers until the end of the year.

Now an analog is in the works in APCo’s service area because of interest on the part of area universities in pursuing similar arrangements. Grant funds awarded by the U.S. Department of Energy’s SUNSHOT initiative are also a factor in helping to give clean energy a foothold at institutions of higher learning.

These resources can be put to good use if the schools are permitted to enter into agreements to host solar generation and purchase power from systems owned by a third-party, reducing upfront costs relative to buying a system of its own.

APCo is seeking approval from state regulators to commence a program for systems larger systems 250 kilowatts for non-residential customers, including allowing for aggregation of systems on the rooftops of many different buildings that applies to non-profit universities.

This proposal may be subject to some major modifications before becoming available; these changes may pertain to charges imposed on renewable energy buyers, the size of the systems that are eligible, and even the legal ramifications of treating these arrangements so differently from net energy metering.

On July 1, Appalachian Power will release its latest long-term plan outlining how to meet demand over the next 15 years. Because of our community’s efforts and customer engagement in the process, the utility is already modeling ways to comply with the EPA’s new carbon pollution reduction targets including through energy efficiency programs.

But given the cost burden that low- and moderate-income utility customers bear and how far our utilities’ emissions need to come down to reach targeted reductions, we are counting on robust renewable energy commitments and ambitious efficiency goals in its forthcoming plan.

Solarize Montgomery and Solarize Abingdon programs come out and shine

Solar energy is now much more accessible and affordable in Montgomery County, Virginia, thanks to Solarize Montgomery. Launched on Earth Day by a partnership formed by Community Housing Partners, Montgomery County, the Town of Blacksburg, the Town of Christiansburg, the New River Valley Planning District Commission, and VA SUN, the program builds off of last year’s successful Solarize Blacksburg program. Since April, 90 Montgomery county residents have signed up for the long-awaited program.

Abingdon’s Solarize program is kicking off on June 9. Meanwhile, Solarize Harrisonburg is soon to close, but sign up numbers there have exceeded expectations. A huge credit goes to all the program organizers who helped their neighbors achieve savings that could spur solar commitments house by house, while also supporting local renewable energy businesses.

New Clean Power Industry census, and efficiency goals fast-tracked

The Virginia Energy Efficiency Council will soon announce the full results of a recently-completed statewide industry census that takes stock of all the employers and employees in the clean energy sector. After extensive surveying and research, the council found that more than 13,000 jobs in Virginia are currently associated with energy efficiency, and more detailed census information will be posted soon on the organization’s website.

In a presentation given in Virginia, a representative of the American Council on an Energy Efficient Economy shared that the Clean Power Plan can be implemented in Virginia in a way that creates at least 54,000 jobs in renewable energy and energy efficiency. Gov. Terry McAuliffe has recently taken steps to accelerate our state’s efficiency progress, forming an Executive Committee on Energy Efficiency to harness expertise and strategize for solutions to reduce consumption in the private sector while moving up by two years Virginia’s energy savings goal of 10 percent by 2020. With leadership from the McAuliffe administration and energy providers across the state, that goal is within reach.

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