Shenandoah Valley Electric Cooperative member energizes push for solar

It started with a simple question.

Chris Bolgiano, a solar homeowner and long time member of the Shenandoah Valley Electric Cooperative was at her local Ruritan Club meeting which was hosting a representative from SVEC management. She asked if the new headquarters SVEC had under construction would include solar. She was unsatisfied by an indeterminate answer and what at the time seemed like little interest in solar from co-op management. She pressed on.

SVEC is one of Virginia’s 13 electric cooperatives. It serves the central and northern Shenandoah valley, extending into the Potomac Highlands. Electric cooperatives are non-profit utilities that provide at-cost electric services to their member-customers. Because they answer directly to their members, electric cooperatives tend to operate differently than investor-owned utilities like Dominion or Appalachian Power. Every electric cooperative has an elected board that meets at least once a year to hear feedback from the cooperatives’ member-owners. More than 1/6th of Virginians get their electricity from an electric cooperative.

The unique relationship that electric cooperatives have with their member-owners give Bolgiano an opportunity to create leverage that she wouldn’t have if she were a customer of an investor-owned utility. She helped create this leverage by reaching out to others. Bolgiano found many who shared her passion for solar.

Bolgiano worked with follow SVEC members and Augusta Solar Co-op partner, Sandy Greene, as well as Climate Action Alliance of the Valley and VA SUN. This group contacted SVEC management. And asked SVEC what it was doing to put solar on its headquarters and enable all SVEC member-owners to benefit from solar.

Their calls worked. Chris and other SVEC member-owners met with SVEC leadership earlier this month. At this meeting, they learned SVEC was considering using its new headquarters to serve as a showcase for several different solar technologies. SVEC solar advocates also used the subsequent June 8 SVEC annual meeting in to again press the case for solar.

Bolgiano said she likes being an electric cooperative member-owner because of the opportunity she has to influence its direction. She encourages others to do the same. “Look up your board of directors and contact them to let them know you want solar options,” Bolgiano said.