Meg O'Bannon

Solar panels at Franklin Park Arts Center in Purcellville, Virginia.

Virginia petition drive seeks to establish ‘solar rights’ for residents

A non-profit that has helped develop the model for bulk-purchasing cooperatives for residential solar systems is moving to make the voices of its participants and allies heard with a petition drive aimed at Virginia lawmakers.

Virginia Solar United Neighborhoods (VA SUN) has secured more than 1,000 signatures to tell legislators “we should have the right to go solar without unfair restrictions.”

“Virginia’s solar policies rank among the worst in the nation,” said Aaron Sutch, VA SUN’s program director. “They limit job creation and impose on our right to be energy self-sufficient.”

Until now, VA SUN has yet to move to assert itself on any legislative or policy front. That changed, Sutch said, when he and his colleagues sensed enough frustration from “a wide cross section of Virginians” to start promoting its “Declaration of Solar Rights.”

“The declaration,” Sutch said, “is a result of all types of folks reaching out to us demanding the same options for solar that residents in other states enjoy.”

The petition drive is designed to back up requests by constituents to their state lawmakers specifically to:

• Lift the state’s 1 percent cap on the amount of residential solar energy connected to the state’s electric grid. “The grid can safely and reliably support at least ten times more residential solar than this cap allows,” Sutch said.

• Allow Virginians to lease solar systems from third parties;

• Allow Virginians to own shares of community solar systems and earn pro-rata credits on the power bills; and

• End penalties and limits on sizes of private solar systems.

On the last point, Sutch said, solar owners in Dominion and Appalachian Power service territories are forced to pay what VA SUN considers a “punitive and excessive” ‘stand-by charge’ up to $60 per month for residential systems between 10-20 kilowatts in order to receive “net metered” credit for electricity their systems don’t use and put back onto the distribution grid. Most residential rooftop systems range between 3-6 kilowatts.

Dominion defends the standby charge as a means of ensuring net-metered ratepayers pay their share of its distribution costs every month, including when those with large solar systems eliminate power they need from Dominion.

“All of these rules violate our right to be energy self-sufficient on our own property with our own money,” Sutch said.

VA SUN launched the petition drive alongside its latest co-op campaign, the Potomac Solar Co-op. To date, VA SUN and similar campaigns organized by its umbrella organization, the Community Power Network, have coordinated more than 4,000 site visits for solar systems in its multi-state network, resulting in about 1,300 installations. Thus far, VA SUN has facilitated about 400 installations in the state. That network includes sister non-profits in the District of Columbia, Florida, Maryland, Ohio and West Virginia.

Solar systems are installed by participating solar companies which agree to price their materials and labor at a discount.

One of the petition signers – Tom Crockett, a solar advocate in Gloucester, Virginia, near the Chesapeake Bay – said it is “one way to refocus the debate on Virginia’s historical role as a champion of individuals rights and freedoms.”

“Unfortunately,” Crockett said, “our current legislative and regulatory framework is designed more to protect utility company profits than to serve the public interest. Our legislators have yet to embrace this paradigm shift, even as many other states within our region have forged ahead.”

Other non-profits have launched similar co-ops in states such as Georgia and South Carolina. Whether the co-op model can be leveraged for effective rooftop advocacy for solar energy throughout the Southeast and elsewhere remains to be seen.

“We’re seeing a critical mass demanding their right to go solar in every state we work in. We want to facilitate these voices in the way that it’s most appropriate,” Sutch said.

3 thoughts on “Virginia petition drive seeks to establish ‘solar rights’ for residents

  1. Jim:
    Great speaking with you yesterday. For me, much to learn about solar power, use and benefits to the public. And, I intend to do just that so I will be a strong voice for the industry. I want to be able to educate people about the benefits of this industry. Fantastic and pointed article above. Keep up the great work.

    Hodges Throckmorton

  2. The real answer lies in making the Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) mandatory and not the toothless version we have now. This will increase the utilities company demand for solar installations

  3. Jim, I was lucky enough to take advantage of the subsidized solar program here in Va several years ago after we tore down our house in Franconia and built a new house in its place. After being on the waiting list nearly two years, we installed two 4 x 10 solar hot water panels and never run out of hot water with the 120 gal solar tank and 80 gal electric with tempering valve. We also installed 30 standard sized solar electric panels (6KW) on our separate garage which has full, clear, south facing sun 96% of the day. We have three 220 grid feeds, two into the house with one of those backed up by a 220 KW natl gas generator. The garage is a separate 220 feed so the solar and generator never fight. The electric company installed a single new fancy meter that is supposed to measure the electric flow both directions. It is metering all three feeds simultaneously. With their set up there is literally no way I can determine how much my 6KW of solar panels are actually returning if we are absent from the home for say three – five weeks. Not that I don’t trust the electric company but no one seems to understand how the meter can tell which way the electric is flowing with three 220 cables in a CT case on the side of my house. Can that meter tell and accurately measure two cables drawing from the grid while the third is feeding to the grid at the same time? How can it be checked or validated? Interesting question?? Please let me know if you have any thoughts on this. And yes the rules drove me batty but I never gave up. Respectfully/ Don