New report examines Richmond’s community solar potential

VA SUN is pleased to announce the release of a report that reviews community solar efforts nationally and in Virginia, as well as their applicability to Richmond. Community solar refers to off-site solar photovoltaic (PV) systems that provide electricity and financial benefits to multiple community members. This allows various consumers who cannot install a system on their own property (due to shading, roof orientation, zoning laws, roof/system size, lack of property ownership, etc.) to enjoy the advantages of solar PV energy.

“Our student research found numerous opportunities and sites for community solar in the Richmond region,” said Gilbert Michaud, the report’s project manager. Graduate students at VCU completed the report, entitled “Greater Richmond Region Community Solar Feasibility Study.”

The report reviews several examples of ways to deploy community solar. It outlines four community solar case studies, investigates perspectives on these issues via interviews with policy experts in Virginia, and uses Geographic Information Systems (GIS) mapping to determine the feasibility of developing a community solar project in Richmond.

This research outlined the three key models for community solar: utility-owned, nonprofit owned, and special purpose entity owned. Interview results examined the barriers to community solar in Richmond. The report cited low electricity prices, a lack of supportive state policy, and strong utility push-back against such policies.

The report further identified 178 suitable rooftop structures to support a community solar installation in Richmond using GIS and Light Radar (LiDAR) data. It also analyzed five key locations for such a project. These five selected sites all have the ability to support a large solar PV array and produce between 536,000 kWh and 5.4 million kWh per year.

The report concluded that, under the current policy limitations, the best opportunity to develop community solar in Richmond is through a utility-owned project. Dominion Virginia Power and the BARC Electric Cooperative have already embarked on such projects in Virginia, though the results of these programs remain to be seen.

Moving forward, the report suggests that future legislative proposals should more narrowly focus on group billing and virtual net metering policies. This would allow a customer with multiple meters to distribute solar credits to different accounts, such as renters in a multi-unit building. Prior proposed community solar legislation in Virginia focused on the establishment of community solar gardens. Such a state policy change would encourage the nonprofit or special purpose entity models of community solar, opening the market to a larger number of consumers, especially in an urban setting such as Richmond.

You can download a full copy of the report here. For more information, contact Gilbert Michaud at michaudgl@vcu.edu.