VA SUN parent, Community Power Network, named ‘One of the Best’ nonprofits by Catalogue for Philanthropy

We are excited to announce that VA SUN parent organization, Community Power Network, has been named one of the best small nonprofits in the D.C. area! After a careful vetting process, the Catalogue for Philanthropy: Greater Washington selected Community Power Network (CPN) to be part of the Class of 2017-18. The Catalogue has a rigorous review process to ensure that every nonprofit it chooses is worthy of donors’ support and will handle donations responsibly. CPN met the Catalogue’s high standards, and will be highlighted for the next four years.

“We are honored to have been selected by the Catalogue for Philanthropy as one of the best nonprofits in the D.C. region,” said Anya Schoolman, founder and Executive Director of Community Power Network. “We are excited to have the Catalogue’s support take our fundraising efforts to the next level, and power our mission with.”

“People want to know where to give and they need trusted information. Based on our in-depth review, we believe that Community Power Network is one of the best community-based nonprofits in the region,” said Barbara Harman, founder and president of the Catalogue for Philanthropy.

The Catalogue’s mission is to create visibility for the best community-based charities, fuel their growth with philanthropic dollars, and create a movement for social good in the greater Washington region. Since its inception 15 years ago, the Catalogue has helped nonprofits in the region raise $38 million, and has provided numerous trainings and engagement opportunities for nonprofits and individuals.

CPN is one of 34 charities that are new to the Catalogue this year. The network now includes more than 400 vetted nonprofits working in the arts, education, environment, human services, and international sectors throughout greater Washington.

Dominion plans to include more solar, but not consumer-owned

In early May, Dominion Virginia Power filed its annual Integrated Resource Plan (IRP) with the State Corporation Commission (SCC). An IRP is a long-term plan laying out how a utility will meet the electric demand of its customers in the coming years. The SCC is the Virginia’s regulatory body charged with overseeing utility electricity providers. Utilities like Dominion are required to file IRPs annually to describe what new electricity generation facilities will be brought online, what existing facilities will be retired, and where. Traditionally, Dominion’s IRPs (and generation portfolio on the whole) have demonstrated the utility’s heavy reliance on fossil-fuel sources: roughly one-third of its electricity generating fleet is powered by coal, and another third powered by natural gas. But this year, something changed.

More so than in any previous IRP, Dominion’s 2017 IRP features a strong focus on solar. Whereas previous years’ IRP filings gave very little mention to renewable energy, solar in particular, this one provides some pretty compelling numbers. In it, Dominion commits to building out 3,200 MW (or 3,200,000 kW) of solar generating capacity by 2032, fifteen years from now. Dominion also indicates that it could build a total of 5,200 MW (5,200,000 kW) of solar by 2042. Considering Virginia has only ~300 MW of solar installed at present, Dominion’s solar numbers seem quite impressive.

Beyond its numbers and figures, Dominion’s IRP press release praises solar. “For the first time, the costs of utility-scale universal solar power are expected to be low enough to make it a component [of our generation portfolio],” announced Paul Koonce, CEO of Dominion Generation Group. We believe this balance of solar [with our other generation sources] hits the sweet spot in terms of cost, environmental performance and reliability for our customers.” In perhaps its most solar-centric statement to date, Dominion offers “[we] must now prepare for a future in which solar PV generation can become a major contributor to the Company’s overall energy mix.”

Where is customer-owned solar?

VA SUN and its growing constituency of solar supporters is pleased to see Dominion- Virginia’s largest electric utility incorporating more solar into its generation portfolio. But, we want to see Dominion fulfill its obligation to remove barriers to customer-owned solar. Dominion blocks the right of its customers to benefit from the energy freedom, job creation and grid resilience that only customer-owned ‘rooftop’ solar enables.

While the aggregate solar projections filed in the IRP seem impressive, the numbers are far less exciting when broken down by year. As Ivy Main pointed out in a recent article, 3,200 MW of solar by 2032 translates to roughly 240 MW of new solar generating capacity per year. That’s about equal to what individual Virginia homeowners, small businesses, non-profits installed, combined with the utility-owned, centralized solar from a few large-scale developers in 2016 alone. Given Dominion’s wealth, resources, and available infrastructure, we should expect more.

In fact, why doesn’t Dominion commit to building more solar facilities in the state? Company executives contend that installing more solar than what’s included in their IRP projections will threaten power reliability and burden Virginia’s ratepayers with extreme costs- A claim which they have no data to substantiate. However, as came to light after their 2016 IRP filing, Dominion’s own utility modeling software found that they could build out a total 15,000 MW of solar over the next 15 years and still save ratepayers money. A lot of money – upwards of $1.5 billion, even after construction and grid upgrade costs are factored in. The revelation was made public after a team of lawyers from the Southern Environmental Law Center discovered that Dominion deliberately removed these “high-solar” projections from their IRP filing, essentially hiding them from public view. What Dominion’s own “high-solar” modeling figures suggest is clear: they can integrate much more solar into the electric grid than the meager 3,200 MW they include in their 2017 IRP, the cost of doing so is not prohibitive, and more solar would, in fact, mean more savings for ratepayers.

The most notable feature of Dominion’s 2017 IRP is the discord between its own plans to build more solar and its continued efforts to undermine the ability of Virginians to do the same. Dominion actively impedes third-party ownership models for solar (also called PPAs, or power purchase agreements) in the state, significantly restricting the residential solar market. It continues to support and defend an arbitrary 1% cap on net metering, limiting the amount of distributed solar that they will financially compensate through net metering to a mere 1% of their previous year’s peak load forecast. Additionally, Dominion charges excessive stand-by charges for customers who install mid-sized solar arrays on their roofs, and prohibits customers from installing solar systems that produce electricity in excess of their previous year’s consumption. Taken together, these practices are a significant barrier to going solar for regular people. Should Virginians accept such treatment from a company that touts solar so vigorously in its planning and public relations materials?

In light of Dominion’s recently-filed 2017 IRP, we can certainly celebrate its emerging solar plans. But, we must also continue to protect the rights of all Virginians to go solar and ensure that Dominion’s build-out of solar facilities works for all state ratepayers.

The PJM, the lesser known, but important player in the electric system

You are no doubt familiar with your utility as the entity that delivers your electricity. But there is another important player in getting electricity from a power plant to your home, the RTO or Regional Transmission Authority. For Virginia, the RTO is PJM. PJM is responsible for managing the transportation of electricity from power plants to the various utilities in its territory. Understanding PJM’s role in the centralized electricity system is important to understanding how electric markets work and in turn what the development of solar means for these markets.

PJM is an abbreviation of Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Maryland after the territories where the first utilities joined together. Today, the PJM includes all or parts of New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Washington, D.C., Ohio, Virginia, Kentucky, North Carolina, West Virginia, Indiana, Michigan, and Illinois. It manages electricity distribution for more than 60 million people and $42 billion worth of electricity.

To understand what PJM does, it is helpful to think about the process of getting electricity from a power plant to your home with our current ‘centralized’ model of generation. In this model, energy is generated by power plants often hundreds (or even thousands) of miles away from the end user. This model has three parts: generation, transmission, and distribution. Generation is the production of electricity at a power plant. Transmission is the middle portion of the process that sends electricity from power plants sometimes over long distances to a distribution network. Distribution is a utility routing that electricity to your home or business.

PJM manages the market where power plants bid to provide electricity to utilities within PJM territory. It monitors the transmission system to ensure that the right amount of electricity is being supplied at all times. Auctions are conducted three years in advance to determine the price for base generation based on forecasting models for capacity needs. Baseload generation is the largest portion of the electricity generation market and historically includes big power plants using coal, natural gas, nuclear, and large hydroelectric dams.

To function properly, our electricity system must be in balance at every moment between what is being used (consumption) and what is being produced (generation). Because of that requirement, PJM also holds energy market auctions to meet additional and precise demand. Some auctions trade as frequently as every five minutes.

Wind and solar are increasingly playing a role in these auctions. The most expensive power is during peak demand loads that are frequently in the height of summer. Solar helps offset the power needed during many of those peak periods. This means the utility is buying less expensive electricity and all ratepayers save money.

 

Greater Arlington Solar Co-op releases RFP, announces information session

The 54-member Greater Arlington 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. Arlington Initiative to Rethink Energy, Arlingtonians for a Clean Environment and VA SUN are the co-op sponsors. The group is open to Arlington, Alexandria, and Fairfax County residents and businesses. The co-op also announced it will host an information meeting Wednesday, June 21 at Patrick Henry Library in Vienna Virginia 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. Greater Arlington residents interested in joining the co-op can sign up at the co-op webpage.

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, participant can save up to 20% off the cost of their system.

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 tax credits 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!

Interested in volunteering with VA SUN? Sign up here to be notified periodically about volunteer opportunities.

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.