Group seeks to help grow solar with PACE financing

Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) financing enables homeowners or commercial building owners to finance energy improvements, like solar, through their property taxes. PACE programs connect building owners with capital providers offering long-term, low-cost financing for energy upgrades. PACE financing covers a range of energy projects, from rooftop solar to energy efficiency, and is repaid overtime through property taxes. This means it requires no upfront money out of pocket from building owners. Because project repayment occurs through the property tax, it is transferrable from one building owner to the next. Additionally, longer term repayment schedules can result in lower monthly payments. Streamlining PACE programs can unlock the potential of building owners to install solar.

In Virginia, this is where the Metropolitan Area PACE Alliance (MAPA) comes in. The group recently hosted the first in a series of webinars to promote PACE financing programs across the region. Designed to streamline the adoption of PACE programming, MAPA launched in January 2017. It is made up of a diverse coalition of municipalities, PACE program administrators, and stakeholders from D.C., Maryland, and Virginia. The organization coordinates resources across local jurisdictions so that the various PACE programs can efficiently work together. MAPA hopes to create a “thoughtful, standardized program approach that is easily adopted by interested jurisdictions”. This will simplify the process that property owners use to benefit from PACE projects.

Commercial PACE programs almost ready in Virginia

During the webinar, presenters from PACE-related agencies and organizations in Virginia, Maryland, and D.C. provided an overview of the status of PACE programs in their respective localities. All three have already passed enabling PACE legislation, albeit only for commercial PACE projects. This means that only commercial, industrial, non-profit, and multi-unit buildings are eligible for PACE financing. Since Virginia passed its enabling legislation in 2009, no municipality has opened a PACE program, though Arlington County is in the final stages of implementing the state’s first program, which VA SUN documented in an earlier article.

PACE interest grows across Virginia

According to the webinar, Richmond, Norfolk, Charlottesville, Fredericksburg, Hampton Roads, and Roanoke are also pursuing PACE implementation, though they are not as far along as is Arlington. Maryland may prove to be a model for Virginia to follow. Maryland’s Commercial PACE legislation was enacted in 2014. Since then, twelve municipalities have implemented programs for businesses. Allegany, Anne Arundel, Baltimore, Baltimore City, Charles, Frederick, Garrett, Harford, Howard, Kent, and Queen Anne’s counties have all opted into the MD-PACE program, a statewide program administered by PACE Financial Servicing.

“The start of PACE programs in Maryland offers an opportunity to share lessons learned and build capacity for more PACE in the region,” said Corey Ramsden, MD SUN Program Director.

Montgomery County offers its own program apart from MD-PACE. Washington, D.C. administers its commercial PACE program in collaboration with Urban Ingenuity.

For more information on state-specific PACE programming in the metropolitan D.C. area – and to watch a recorded version of the June webinar – visit the Metropolitan Area PACE Alliance website.

Upper Piedmont Solar Co-op selects installer to serve group

Members of the Upper Piedmont Solar Co-op have selected Sigora Solar to install solar panels for the 40-member group. Co-op members selected Sigora Solar through a competitive bidding process. The group will hold a public information session on September 23, (details below) to educate the community about solar and the co-op process.

The co-op is open to new members until October 31. Winchester as well as Loudoun, Fauquier, Clarke, Warren, Frederick, and Rappahannock County residents interested in joining the co-op can sign up at the co-op web page.

Joining the co-op is not a commitment to purchase panels. Sigora Solar will provide each co-op member with an individualized proposal based on the group rate. By going solar as a group and choosing a single installer, participants are ensured of getting the most competitive pricing and getting support of VA SUN through the process.

Information session details

Saturday, September 23, 10 a.m.
Little Washington Town Hall, 485 Gay Street
Washington, VA 22747

Solar eclipse draws attention to solar’s increasing role in energy landscape

The earliest recorded solar eclipse, when the moon passes in front of the sun creating a brief period of daytime darkness, occurred during the 22nd Century BCE. Legends state that two Chinese court astronomers were executed for their failures to predict and prepare for the eclipse, as eclipses were believed to be omens foretelling the health of kings. Since then, eclipses repeatedly have been associated with kings and their nations, with legends and superstitions linking eclipses to the deaths of King Henry I and Queen Anne Neville.

While it’s unlikely the upcoming eclipse on August 21 will result in the overturning of any kingdoms, the preparations some states are making underlines solar ever-increasing role in energy generation. The last time a total solar eclipse was viewable on the continental United States was in February of 1979, a time when the state of the American solar industry was very different than today. Since 1979 more than 44,000 MW of solar has been deployed. Solar is an integral part of the electric grid and home and businesses generation.

For example, more than 10% of California’s generation comes from solar, representing 50% of solar production nationwide. This demonstrates how solar has now grown to represent an ever -increasing part of the energy landscape. California Independent System Operator (CAISO) estimates a loss of over 6,000 MW of generating power during the eclipse. Experts estimate 70 MW/minute will be lost as the shadow approaches, and then solar production is expected to ramp up at a rate of 90 MW/minute afterward. Even in this case, it shows how advanced planning can address any challenges that solar can be managed.

As more homes and businesses employ on site ‘distributed generation’ with solar. The eclipse may temporarily affect production at these sites. But, as the power grid utilizes a variety of power sources like traditional wind, and hydro power – there are no projected disruptions.

Fortunately, a similar eclipse crossed Europe in March of 2015. This will give California utilities insight into how to prepare for the drop in production. Electricity reserved from gas-fired and hydro-electric plants should be enough to offset the loss, particularly given California’s glut of snowfall this year. In the future, storage resources like batteries could also play a role. Similar plans to those in California are in place for North Carolina, where the solar industry is smaller but still a presence. This work demonstrates the integration of solar and other renewable sources is a matter of planning. The North American Electric Reliability Corporation (NERC), a nonprofit corporation formed to “ensure the reliability of the North American bulk power system,” expects no major disruption to the grid’s reliability but does recommend utilities prepare and study the eclipse for the future.

{This article contributed to VA SUN by Cal Kielhold}

Middle Peninsula and Northern Neck residents forming solar co-op to go solar together, get a discount

Neighbors in Middle Peninsula and Northern Neck have formed a solar co-op to save money and make going solar easier, while building a network of solar supporters. The Hampton Roads Solar Group and VA SUN are the co-op sponsors. The group is seeking members and will host information meetings in August 7 in Kilmarnock and August 8 in Gloucester (details below) to educate the community about solar and the co-op process.

Middle Peninsula and Northern Neck residents interested in joining the co-op can sign up at the co-op web page. Joining the co-op is not a commitment to purchase panels. Once the group is large enough, VA SUN will help the co-op solicit competitive bids from area solar installers.

Co-op members will select a single company to complete all of the installations. They will then have the option to purchase panels individually based on the installer’s group rate. By going solar as a group and choosing a single installer, participants can save up to 20% off the cost of their system.

Information sessions

August 7, 6:30 p.m.
Grace Episcopal Church
303 South Main Street
Kilmarnock, VA 22482

Click here to RSVP

August 8, 6:30 p.m.
Gloucester Library
6920 Main Street
Gloucester Courthouse, VA 23061

Click here to RSVP

 

Group touts renewable energy’s widespread support

While support for renewable energy sources, like solar, is widespread, many aren’t aware of its strong support across the entire political spectrum. That’s where a new Virginia organization, Conservatives for Clean Energy is stepping in.

The group formed in 2014 in North Carolina. It launched into Virginia at the beginning of the year with a statewide poll to test respondents’ views about renewable energy. “It’s one of the few issues where you see broad support from Republicans, Democrats, and independents,” said Mark Fleming, President and CEO of Conservatives for Clean Energy.

The poll found that two-thirds of Republicans surveyed support increasing the use of renewable energy while using less energy from fossil fuel sources.

“Virginia is a state that has historically had an underdeveloped market,” said Andrew Lamar, the group’s Virginia Advisor. “Virginia is a politically purple state with a lot of conservative legislators in suburban and even rural districts that are open to renewable energy when they view it as an economic development issue.”

The organization is working on several fronts to make the case to Republican legislators in Richmond that renewable energy has broad support among their constituents. The group’s efforts include grassroots and grass tops education campaigns, as well as educating individual lawmakers. In February, the group helped organize a clean energy press conference with several conservative lawmakers.

“When you take a look a it, there are a lot of reasons why conservatives would want to support clean energy development,” Lamar said citing energy choice and local job creation. “We want to make those reasons clear to conservative policymakers.”

Lamar noted that Virginia’s business community is increasingly supportive of clean energy, as evidenced by companies raising their renewable energy targets.

“There’s overwhelming support among voters and self-identified conservatives for renewable energy,” Lamar said. “And, they support taking action to grow our clean energy economy in Virginia.”

Making a difference for Virginia solar, an interview with SELC’s Will Cleveland

Supporting solar in Virginia can feel like an uphill battle. Fortunately, the commonwealth’s growing community of solar supporters is becoming more active in pushing for policies that will enable all Virginians to benefit from solar energy. Recently, we discussed some of the challenges we face and opportunities available to us with Will Cleveland of the Southern Environmental Law Center (SELC).

SELC is a non-profit law firm that works in six Southeastern states, Alabama Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Virginia. Cleveland works as a lead energy policy attorney. In this role, he works to advocate for renewable energy and energy efficiency in the General Assembly and at the State Corporation Commission.

Cleveland cited several barriers to growing solar in Virginia. State law prohibits third-party leasing, which hampers solar growth by limiting consumer options to go solar. Cleveland also said that he and his organization are working to push to keep utilities’ integrated resource plans honest about the role solar can play in the electricity system. Utilities file these plans to forecast for the State Corporation Commission and the public what energy sources they plan to use in the coming years.

“The most important thing is for everyone to make clear to their elected officials that [solar] policies that are good for consumers are a ‘vote deciding issue’,” Cleveland said. “I would encourage everyone to reach out to their elected official to make that clear.”

Cleveland remains bullish on the outlook for further solar deployment in Virginia. He cites the continually declining costs of solar and the development of storage technology as forcing utilities’ hand to include solar in its planning. An active base of solar advocates can help speed this process along.

 

Greater Arlington Solar Co-op selects installers to serve group

The Greater Arlington Solar Co-op has selected Sigora Solar and Independent Solar Solutions to install solar panels for the 83-member group. Co-op members selected both installers through a competitive bidding process over eight other firms. Co-op members are working with non-profit VA SUN to learn about solar technology and the process of going solar

The co-op is open to new members until October 1. Arlington, Alexandria, and Fairfax residents interested in joining the co-op can sign up at the co-op web page. Joining the co-op is not a commitment to purchase panels. The installers will provide each co-op member with an individualized proposal based on the group rate. By going solar as a group and choosing a single installer, participants can save up to 20% off the cost of their system.

Upper Piedmont Solar Co-op releases RFP, announces info session

The 27-member Upper Piedmont Solar Co-op today issued a request for proposals (RFP) from area solar installers. The group members created the co-op to save money and make going solar easier, while building a network of solar supporters. The James Madison Center for Wind Energy, Farm-to-Table Solutions, Powered by Facts, and VA SUN are the co-op sponsors. The group also announced it will host an information meeting on Thursday, July 13 (details below) to educate the community about solar and the co-op process.

Local installers interested in serving the group can click to download the RFP and response template. Winchester, Loudoun, Fauquier, Clarke, Warren, Frederick and Rappahannock County residents interested in joining the co-op can sign up at the co-op web page.

Joining the co-op is not a commitment to purchase panels. Co-op members will select a single company to complete all of the installations. They will then have the option to purchase panels individually based on the installer’s group rate. By going solar as a group and choosing a single installer, participants can save up to 20% off the cost of their system.

Information session

July 13, 6:30 p.m.
Handley Library
100 West Piccadilly Street
Winchester, VA 22601

Click here to RSVP

Solar supporters make presence felt at Rubin Group meeting

Over the past two years, a collection of Virginia energy stakeholders has met to make policy recommendations to the Virginia General Assembly regarding rules and regulations for solar. Known as the Rubin Group after its moderator, attorney Mark Rubin, these stakeholders include utilities, solar industry representatives, environmental advocates, and others. Last year, the group’s discussion sessions helped to produce three solar-related bills that were signed into law. The group met again earlier this month to solicit public feedback for solar policy proposals to be presented in the next legislative session. This meeting was different than previous ones because of the powerful voice and presence of Virginia’s community of solar supporters.

Meeting recap

More than 60 solar advocates attended the meeting. An additional 30 joined by phone. Members of the VA SUN network representing all areas of the Commonwealth echoed a strong voice that customer-owned solar options for homes, businesses, and municipal entities must be supported as part of any Rubin Group recommendations. This opportunity for discussion set a good path forward for this goal, but this is only the first step.

In person and phone attendees echoed key questions which remain:

  • Are solar ratepayers, a key constituency, adequately represented in this process?
  • How does the group measure success?
  • Do the group’s final recommendations lead to legislation that increases distributed solar generation (like rooftop solar)?
  • Does the group lean too much towards utility and large scale development interests at the expense of rooftoop solar?

The topic that garnered the most interest from the group was net metering. Solar homeowners and businesses insisted upon the importance of expanding options to net metering while removing red tape and ensuring that Virginians get a fair value for the energy they produce with solar. Installers from all over the commonwealth noted that their ability to provide well-paying jobs depends on net metering.

Solar options for all communities

Solar advocates also expressed a strong desire for real community solar. Real community solar allows individuals and businesses in a community to develop and own a share of a single solar project and benefit proportionally. This is still illegal in Virginia and many at the meeting made it clear that utility-owned solar subscription programs passed off as ‘community solar’ are insufficient and not really ‘community solar’.

It was clear from the meeting that attendees want to create an electric system that enables all communities to participate and benefit from their own energy production. Utility stakeholders agreed that they are in a position to facilitate this change. The utilities have two options. They can continue to use their financial and political resources to block solar options for the customers they serve. Or, they can take a leadership role in facilitating the clean and participatory energy grid their customers want.

How you can bring more solar to Virginia

This meeting is a good first step towards expanding solar access in Virginia. Our community of solar supporters is proving we can take an active role to expand access to net metering, make real community solar legal in Virginia, allow for solar leasing, and remove the barriers to red tape to customer-owned solar options.

The Rubin Group is opening their stakeholder process by holding subsequent meetings and creating several topic-area working groups. Solar supporters interested in this effort should:

  1. Volunteer to be on one of four working groups focusing on net metering, community solar, land use, and large-scale utility solar. To get involved, email: Rubingroup2017@gmail.com and indicate the working group you would like to join.
  2. Demand that group hold stakeholder meetings across Virginia (especially in southwest Virginia) by emailing Rubingroup2017@gmail.com and ask them to hold a meeting where you live.

How solar takes the heat off

Reducing the amount of electricity you need to buy from your utility isn’t the only way going solar helps you save money. Installing panels on your roof may also reduce your energy demand. This is because rooftop solar can help regulate your roof’s temperature. A study from the University of California San Diego found that solar panel installations can reduce roof heat by as much as five degrees.

Solar panels are typically attached to your roof using a racking system. Most rooftop systems are installed so that there is a gap between the roof and the panel. This separation allows for air to flow under the panels and sweep away some of the heat. Solar panels also absorb heat that would otherwise be absorbed by the roof itself. Researchers calculated that solar’s temperature reduction amounts to an additional five percent return on investment due to lower energy costs due to reduced usage. In the winter months, solar panels can prevent heat from escaping, leading to lower heating costs.