Super volunteer, Wayne Nolde, promotes solar in his community

VA SUN recently connected with one of our super volunteers, Wayne Nolde, to learn more about his experience going solar and what inspired him to volunteer with us. Wayne went solar with the Augusta County Solar Co-op in 2015, and since then has generously spent a great deal of his time encouraging other homeowners in the area to go solar and join the Mountain and Valley Solar Co-op.

Before going solar, Wayne had been interested in solar energy for many years. Wayne was initially inspired to consider solar when his twin brother went solar in Colorado and when his sister and brother-in-law went solar and even helped form solar co-ops in upstate New York. But it wasn’t until he heard about the Augusta County Solar Co-op that Wayne decided to solarize his home. Wayne went to a few co-op information sessions and after receiving a proposal from Sigora, the co-op’s selected installer, signed a contract and installed a 4.48 kW solar system on his home. Wayne has been very happy with his solar system’s energy production and low maintenance needs.

Since the co-op ended, Wayne came across several neighbors who were interested in solar, but hadn’t made the commitment for various reasons. After seeing other VA SUN solar co-ops launch a Round 2, he thought it would be worth doing another co-op in his area. In late 2016, Wayne reached out to VA SUN’s Program Director, Aaron Sutch, with the idea. He connected with other partner organizations, including CAAV (Climate Action Alliance of the Valley), rallied a core group of folks in the area, and before he knew it, the Mountain and Valley Solar Co-op was up and running!

To help generate interest in the Mountain and Valley Solar Co-op, Wayne has volunteered to spread the word and share his own experience going solar. In March, Wayne acted as a solar ambassador at one of our first Mountain and Valley Solar Co-op information sessions, sharing his experience with interested homeowners and answering their questions from a solar homeowner’s perspective.

Shortly thereafter, Wayne and his wife volunteered to host a solar open house for prospective and new co-op members. Nearly 20 people attended, including two other members of the 2015 Augusta Co-op, who helped Wayne answer questions. Wayne gave attendees a tour of his solar home, shared his experience going solar through the co-op, and showed the group an electronic display of the solar array’s electricity production and savings. Later, Wayne informally hosted a second solar open house for members of his church.

Over the last few months, Wayne has distributed countless Mountain and Valley Solar Co-op flyers to area homes and businesses. He also volunteered to staff an information table for VA SUN at the Waynesboro Riverfest in April, to spread the word about the Mountain and Valley Solar Co-op to as many people as possible.

When asked how he encourages people to consider going solar and join the co-op, Wayne points out the environmental benefits of going solar, the federal subsidies available to help offset the upfront cost, the increase in home value, and the fact that solar protects you from rising electricity rates (rates have risen 44% since 2000 in Virginia, according to data from the Energy Information Administration). Upfront cost, he says, is the most common challenge for people considering solar. “People will spend that amount of money to buy a car because they need transportation,” Wayne explains, “but people don’t think they need to spend that much on electricity, even though it will save them in the long run.” Wayne says he explains the value of making the investment in solar panels by comparing the benefit of buying a car versus leasing it.

Wayne feels strongly that more outreach and education are needed to get the word out about distributed solar energy and its value. If more people help spread the word in their communities – to their neighbors, soon-to-be homeowners, and even students – Wayne feels that solar would really take off, even more than it already has. He concludes our chat by letting me know that VA SUN and Community Power Network are doing a great service for communities like his. We think Wayne is doing his community a great service too. Thank you, Wayne, keep up the great work!

 

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Greater Richmond Solar Co-op selects Sigora Solar to serve group

The Greater Richmond Solar Co-op has selected Sigora Solar to install solar panels for the 35-member group. Co-op members selected Sigora through a competitive bidding process over two other firms. The group will hold a public information session on Thursday, May 25 at the Humphrey Calder Community Center (6:30 p.m.) to educate the community about solar and the co-op process.

Co-op members selected Sigora Solar to serve the group based on its competitive pricing, quality equipment offerings, and wealth of experience working with past VA SUN co-ops.

The co-op is open to new members until August 1. Richmond area residents interested in joining the co-op can sign up at www.vasun.org/richmond. Joining the co-op is not a commitment to purchase panels. Sigora 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.

Information session details

Thursday, May 25, 6:30 p.m.
Humphrey Calder Community Center
414 North Thompson Street
Richmond, VA 23221

 

 

Upper Piedmont residents form solar co-op to go solar together, get a discount

Neighbors in Winchester and Loudoun, Fauquier, Clarke, Warren, and Rappahannock Counties have formed a solar 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. Information session details below.

Upper Piedmont residents interested in joining the co-op can sign up at www.vasun.org/upper-piedmont. 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.

Tuesday, May 16, 7 p.m.
Brewbaker’s Restaurant
168 North Loudoun Street
Winchester, VA

RSVP here

Wednesday, May 17, 6:30 p.m.
John Barton Payne Building
2 Courthouse Square
Warrenton, VA

RSVP here

Wednesday, May 17, 6:30 p.m.
Rust Library
380 Old Waterford Road NW
Leesburg, VA

RSVP here

Thursday, May 18, 6:30 p.m.
Cascades Library
21030 Whitfield Place
Potomac Falls, VA

RSVP here

 

 

 

 

Greater Arlington Solar Co-op launches

Neighbors in the Greater Arlington area are forming a solar co-op to save money and make going solar easier, while building a network of solar supporters. Arlington Initiative to Rethink Energy, Arlingtonians for a Clean Environment, and VA SUN are the co-op sponsors. The group is seeking members and will host an information on Wednesday, May 10 in Arlington and Thursday, May 11 in Alexandria to educate the community about solar and the co-op process.

Greater Arlington area residents interested in joining the co-op can sign up at www.vasun.org/greater-arlington. 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

Wednesday, May 10, 7 p.m.
Navy League Building
2300 Wilson Blvd, Suite #210
Arlington, VA
RSVP here

Thursday, May 11, 7 p.m.
The Pavilion at Mark Center
5708 Merton Court
Alexandria, VA 22311
RSVP here

Beds and Breakfasts at forefront of electric vehicle transition

More and more Virginians are buying electric vehicles (EVs) and ‘fueling’ them with the energy they produce with solar at their homes. As EV adoption in Virginia increases, building out the charging infrastructure to keep pace with increasing demand remains a challenge.

Interestingly, Virginia’s beds and breakfasts have been some of the early adopters for electric charging stations. B&B’s are well-suited to offer ‘destination chargers’ in which EV owners can charge their vehicles as they stay overnight or stop in for a few hours for lunch or business meetings. Electric vehicle manufacturer Tesla began offering free charging stations to bed and breakfasts several years ago.

“We purchased the inn from previous owners this past fall with the charging station already installed,” said Kim Moore of the Inn at Onancock on Virginia’s Eastern Shore. “The fact that we have a universal charging and a Tesla station was appealing.” It’s also one of the only places on the Eastern Shore to offer EV charging for the public.

The B&B owners we spoke with noted that uptake on charger use has been gradual but see the value in offering an additional amenity to guests and providing the infrastructure to expand EV use in Virginia. They expressed excitement that the start of the summer season would bring along more users to coincide with the typical seasonal upswing in business.

“It’s a good PR piece that people know we’re forward thinking,” said Jeanne Jeffers of the Inn at Riverbend. “It seems to do it’s job. Everyone’s been pretty happy when they recharged.”

The electric charging station carries on a bit of family tradition for Janice Fitzgerald of the Inn By the Side of the Road in Harrisonburg.

“My father owned Standard Oil (gas) station and Standard offered him a second proprietorship in Riverdale because of the newly built Baltimore-Washington Parkway,” Fitzgerald said. “My mother thought he was absolutely out of his mind, because it was the hinterlands. The Baltimore-Washington Parkway became an important connector. I think that’s how I look at us, eventually the traffic will come as it did with the gas station.” Fitzgerald notes the same station is still in operation.

Fitzgerald’s story illustrates how electric vehicle adoption will mirror that of its gasoline-powered predecessors. Growth of an infrastructure to support electric vehicles will in turn encourage more consumers to opt for electric vehicles.

Solar has an important role to play in powering more vehicles with electricity. It provides cost-effective, locally-generated power to charging stations either on- or off-grid.

Mike Doan and Pickett Craddock of Oak Grove Plantation, in Halifax County went solar with their local solar co-op and power their Tesla charging station with solar.

“[The solar system and electric charger] are part of the tour that I offer to every customer that I have,” Doan said. “They are interested in both cooperative solar experience and also electric vehicles.”

Mountain And Valley Solar Co-op selects Sigora Solar to serve group

The Mountain And Valley Solar Co-op has selected Sigora Solar to install solar panels for the 55-member group. Co-op members selected Sigora Solar through a competitive bidding process over four other firms.

The co-op is open to new members through the end of June. Augusta, Highland, Rockbridge, and Rockingham County residents interested in joining the co-op can sign up at www.vasun.org/mountain-and-valley.

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, each participant generally saves up to 20% off the cost of their system.

This solar system is for the birds (specifically ospreys)

Richmond’s James River is home to an osprey nest in the heart of the city’s downtown waterfront. Viewers can monitor the process of the Osprey parents and expected hatchlings in real time thanks to a 24-hour live stream. This literal bird’s eye view is made possible thanks to a small solar system that uses solar panels and batteries to power the camera and communications equipment.

Ryan Abrahamsen and partner Andy Thompson decided to create the set up after being inspired by other similar efforts. Since Richmond is home to a vibrant outdoor community passionate about the river, they saw it as a natural fit and real asset to the community. “There’s nothing like this in the downtown area,” Abrahamsen said.

They quickly realized the only way to power the system would be with solar. The nest sits in the river on a 40-foot granite bridge piling that is 500 yards away from the nearest power source. The system is an example of an ‘off-grid’ application in which solar provides power when there is no grid connection or electrical service.

The system for the Osprey cam is designed to produce 35 continuous watts of power. This is enough to power a remote-controlled, 360º-view camera and radio that beams the video stream to two repeater base stations equipped with an internet connection to broadcast the feed. Energy generated from the solar panels is stored in a small battery that connects directly to the camera and other equipment. Abrahamsen says the system can stay powered for up to three straight days of little sunshine.

Abrahamsen and his crew purposely decided to over build the system so that they could ensure the camera system would always have power. They hope to add a small infrared light that will allow viewers to see the nest at night as well.

See below for a slideshow of the installation process.

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Installing a system for future storage connection

Pairing solar installations with battery storage is an attractive idea for many people who are thinking about going solar. Battery storage provides piece of mind that even if you are unable to get electricity from the grid (e.g. during a storm) you will still have power.

Despite this benefit, battery storage remains an expensive proposition for many. At the same time, the market for batteries is growing rapidly. This rapid growth is coupled with quickly declining prices. So, even if battery storage may not pencil out for solar customers today, it is possible it will in the near future. Fortunately, solar systems can be built with the addition of a future storage system in mind.

When building a system for future storage, it is important to make sure your grid-tied inverter’s power rating doesn’t exceed that of a future battery. Battery sizes range from 4,000-7,000 watts. So, let’s say you have a 9,000 watt system, you would want to purchase two smaller inverters, say 6,000 and 3,000 watt ones, rather than one 9,000 watt inverter. This will allow you to rewire the electricity from the smaller inverter into your future battery system.

This can be accomplished through AC coupling. AC coupling refers to the interface between the solar array and the inverter. This takes place physically in your home’s circuit panel. The battery installer will add an additional breaker panel that covers the outlets that can be powered with the electricity stored in your battery system. These outlets will be the ones connected to your “critical loads” such as your refrigerator.

There is an added cost to having two smaller inverters, rather than one larger inverter. The cost will vary, but expect to pay between $500 and $1,000 for the two smaller ones.

It is also possible to connect systems that use micro inverters to batteries. The key is to arrange the strings in a way that a portion of your system is set up to send electricity to a future battery system.

If you are thinking about adding battery back up, let your installer know before they install the system. This ensures they will design your system to be storage compatible and to minimize the additional work that would have to be done to install batteries when you do decide to add storage.

Join Virginia’s solar movement

Thousands of Virginians across the Commonwealth have gone solar as installation costs have dropped by almost two-thirds in the past five years. Solar in Virginia will not be stopped. Now is the time to join with other solar supporters to build off this momentum and fight for our energy rights. Below are several ways you can take action to support solar in Virginia.

Sign the Declaration of Solar Rights Solar energy empowers Virginians to harness clean local energy, creates jobs, and enhances our energy security. Sadly, Virginia’s current laws violate our right to invest in and benefit from solar energy by limiting consumer choice. Join the growing number of Virginians who demand an immediate change to laws that restrict our freedom to produce solar energy.

Sign up for the VA SUN newsletter and listserv VA SUN’s newsletter and listserv are the best way to stay informed about the latest in solar news from Virginia. Our monthly newsletter highlights key stories relevant to people interested in learning more about solar energy. The listserv is a community of solar enthusiasts who work together to share questions and advice about going solar in Virginia.

Volunteer with VA SUN Help us promote solar energy policy, form solar co-ops and educate your neighbors about the benefits of solar. Let’s grow Virginia’s community of solar supporters!

 

Arlington debuts new financing effort to make going solar easier

Businesses in Arlington County will soon have a new way to finance energy upgrades, like installing solar panels. The financing mechanism is known as Property Assessed Clean Energy financing (PACE). California launched the first PACE financing program in 2008. Since then, it has radiated to other states. Virginia enabled PACE financing in 2015, opening the door for an exciting new wave of renewable energy projects in Virginia.

The PACE model is designed to expand the accessibility of energy upgrades by creating access to low cost, long-term project financing. PACE-financed projects can include energy efficiency improvements, renewable energy systems, or a combination of the two. Water efficiency projects can also get funded through PACE. PACE financing works in the following way: a commercial building owner seeking to increase the value of their building through energy upgrades contacts their local PACE administrator, who secures financing for the project. The building owner then repays that financing over a period of multiple years through a special assessment on the owner’s property tax bill or utility bill.

The benefits of PACE are found is its long-term repayment structure, its ability to cover 100% of project costs, and the ease of payment. Whereas other forms of project financing require multiple payments to multiple parties, PACE financing recipients need only pay their existing tax or utility bill. And because PACE repayment are simply special assessments tied to the property, PACE-funded projects – and payments – are easily transferable when property ownership changes hands.

The power of PACE financing is so significant for expanding renewable energy and energy efficiency that Virginia first laid the groundwork for PACE in 2009. Original legislation enabled Virginia’s municipalities to pursue their own PACE programs. Unfortunately, holes in the legislation hampered local programs from developing for more than eight years. Finally, in 2015, legislative improvements were made, leaving cities and counties free to design and implement PACE at the local level. Fast forward to 2017, and Arlington County is poised to roll out the state’s first official PACE program.

As it currently stands, Arlington’s PACE financing will be available to any new or existing commercial building. Under the present enabling legislation, traditional commercial properties, e.g., office buildings, retail, hotels, multi-family buildings of five or more units (note: no condominiums), and non-profit properties are eligible for PACE financing.

PACE applicants will be able to specify what type of energy upgrade they want, and the Arlington PACE administrator can connect them with the necessary contractor(s) and capital providers, as needed.

Noting the difficulty of PACE administration, the County has chosen to work with a professional PACE administrator to implement their program. In 2016, Arlington ran a public bidding process The County selected Sustainable Real Estate Solutions (SRS) as its PACE administrator. Among other things, SRS will be tasked with Working together with contractors, property owners, and capital providers to arrive at viable PACE projects. The County will repayment process for all funded projects and SRS will distribute those funds to the corresponding PACE financiers.

According to Richard Dooley, Arlington’s Community Energy Coordinator, the County’s program is just a few months shy of accepting its first PACE applicants. Virginia law requires municipalities to pass a local PACE ordinance prior to launching their program. The county is in the process of arranging this ordinance, which Dooley notes is likely to be voted on late Spring/early Summer. If all goes according to plan, applicants will be able to apply for PACE financing shortly thereafter.

While some PACE programs are funded through public funds in the form of municipal bonds, Arlington’s program will be funded entirely through private money. Projects – from energy efficiency retrofits to rooftop solar – will be financed on the open capital market, drawing from private sector money, equity investors, and local and state banks. In addition to gathering and registering project contractors for the program (local solar installers, for example), Sustainable Real Estate Solutions will be also be tasked with setting the participation criteria for financiers (known as qualified capital providers, or QCPs) and bringing them on board.

As the program gets up and running later this spring, the County plans to host a series of free workshops for both contractors and QCPs interested in working on its PACE projects. Arlington aims to make its PACE program as inclusive as possible for all local contractors and QCPs by hosting these public workshops. When the dates of those meetings are made public, VA SUN will be sure to share them with our network.