Middle Peninsula residents work together to go solar

Nestled between the Rappahannock and York Rivers lies Virginia’s Middle Peninsula. The Middle Peninsula has long been known for its rich soils and views of the Chesapeake Bay. Now, thanks to the efforts of local residents and VA SUN, the Middle Peninsula can add a new item to its list of notable features: solar panels.

In September of 2016, a group of homeowners partnered with VA SUN and the Hampton Roads Solar Tour to launch the Middle Peninsula Solar Co-op. By going solar as a group, Middle Peninsula residents were able to pool their bulk purchasing power to save money on solar install costs and create a local network of solar supporters. Through extensive outreach efforts – including three public solar information sessions – the co-op grew to welcome more than 70 members.

With the technical support of VA SUN, Middle Peninsula Solar Co-op members solicited bids from area solar installers to serve the group. Through careful review and deliberation of the seven bids the co-op received, co-op members selected Ashland-based Shockoe Solar. Co-op members ultimately selected Shockoe Solar for its competitive pricing, range of quality materials, and experience installing solar PV systems the Virginia market.

Shockoe Solar began meeting with individual co-op members in November to generate preliminary contracts for each member. Contracts are customized to each co-op member’s home and budget, but reflect the co-op’s discounted pricing. Since November, 11 co-op members have signed solar installation contracts, with dozens more in the process of analyzing and reviewing their contracts. Already, five co-op members have had their systems installed on their roofs and are now producing their own solar electricity.

“Middle Peninsula Solar Co-op members have been wonderful!” said Bernie Stanley, Shockoe Solar President. “They all share a friendly and relaxed demeanor that makes us feel more like friends than solar contractors. We are thankful for this opportunity and look forward to many more projects in the area to come.”

And the feeling of solar excitement is mutual.

“Being part of the Middle Peninsula Solar Co-op has been a thoroughly educational and pleasant experience,” said co-op member Janice Moore. She recently signed a contract to install panels at her Deltaville home. “The VA SUN team is knowledgeable and quite willing to help co-op members understand the various aspects of solar installation.”

For Moore, the excitement of going solar permeates her daily life. Her system comes with a monitoring tool that allows her to see how much electricity she’s generating. The solar electricity generated by her panels has already had a significant cost savings impact on her electricity bill.

“My first monthly electric bill after which my solar panels were installed just arrived from Dominion yesterday,” Moore said. “I’m thrilled to say that it was only $46, compared to my pre-solar bill of $125. Quite a savings!”

Powered by Facts looks to promote solar, protect ratepayers

Powered by Facts’ Karen Schaufeld

Virginia’s growing community of solar supporters is bolstered by many organizations across the state fighting for fairer policies around solar. One such group is Powered by Facts.

The group formed out of founder Karen Schaufeld’s own experience trying to go solar. In the early 2010s, she wanted to install a ground-mounted array on her property. Dominion, her utility, would not let her offset the electricity produced by the system because it was not connected to any structure on her property. “When I’m confronted with a rule that I don’t think makes sense, I’m compelled to ask ‘why’,” Schaufeld said.

Her questions led her to work with a bi-partisan group of lawmakers to change Virginia law to allow for aggregate net metering. Passed in 2013, this allows farmers like Schaufeld to generate solar on their land without a physical attachment to a building and aggregate solar production to multiple meters for the process of billing. Schaufeld has since had a larger system built on her property.

Schaufeld’s work to go solar on her own inspired her to educate others. “We felt our job was to educate the ratepayer,” Schaufeld said. “We all use electricity, we need to know where it comes from and what the incentives are around it. There were a lot of incentives for utilities that went the wrong way.”

Powered by Facts works to educate Virginians about energy production and consumption in the state. “When we formed two years ago, we saw where we should be going,” Schaufeld said. “Putting in a significant amount of solar was actually a ratepayer benefit.” Schaufeld cited renewable energy’s declining costs and benefits to grid stability as reasons solar benefits all consumers.

Education is only one part of Powered by Facts’ work. It also supports legislative changes to lower barriers to solar. Schaufeld notes not only is Virginia behind its neighbors when it comes to supporting solar, it also has several laws in place which actively make it harder for Virginians to go solar.

With this in mind, Powered by Facts went into mediation last year with several other energy stakeholders, including utilities and solar industry members, to work through some of these barriers.

Out of this mediation came a series of bills that changed the rules around going solar in Virginia. Many solar advocates have expressed concern about SB 1394 in particular. They worry about the bill’s end to aggregate net metering in electric co-op territory and that the addition of solar from agricultural sources may impact other Virginians’ ability to go solar by bumping up against Virginia’s 1% net metering cap.

Schaufeld calls that concern “shortsighted”. “The three bills that came out of the mediation this year are part of a longer term mediation that will take a number of years,” Schaufeld said. She believes the issue of the 1% net metering cap will be a strong focus of future mediation.

“We’re taking as many steps as we can as fast as we can to push this forward and change the ecosystem around solar,” Schaufeld said. We’re working towards it.”

To learn more about Powered by Facts, visit: http://poweredbyfacts.com

Mountain and Valley Solar Co-op releases RFP, announces information session

The 43-member Mountain and Valley 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. Rockbridge Area Conservation Council, Climate Action Alliance of the Valley, Virginia Clean Cities, James Madison University’s Center for Wind Energy, and VA SUN are the co-op sponsors. The group will also be hosting an information meeting on April 13 at 6:30 p.m. at the Waynesboro Public Library (600 South Wayne Avenue, Waynesboro, VA 22980) to educate the community about solar and the co-op process.

Local installers interested in serving the group can click here to download the RFP and click here to download the response template. Augusta, Highland, Rockbridge, and Rockingham County residents and businesses 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 or two companies 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.

Open houses show off solar in the Shenandoah Valley

As the new Mountain and Valley Solar Co-op gets started, members of previous area co-ops are pitching in to educate prospective solar homeowners about going solar. They are holding a series of open houses to share their experiences and to help homeowners who are considering going solar gain a greater level of comfort with the process.

These informal meet and greets at a solar homeowner’s home are an opportunity for homeowners who are considering going solar to see it up close. They can ask questions about the process of going solar and interact with past solar co-op members from their community.

If you are interested in attending an open house, please RSVP below. If you would like to host one, please contact VA SUN Engagement Director, Carra Cheslin.

Saturday, March 11, 10 a.m. – 12 p.m.
Solar home of a co-op member
1043 Chestnut Drive
Harrisonburg
RSVP here

Saturday, March 18, 10 a.m. – 1 p.m.
Solar home of a co-op member
210 Cider Mill Road
Mount Sidney
RSVP here

Sunday, April 2, 1 p.m. – 4 p.m.
Solar home of a co-op member
699 East Beverley Street
Staunton
RSVP here

 

Solar bills enable solar access, with significant concerns

The majority of policies impacting our right to go solar are made locally, in Virginia, by the General Assembly. The Virginia General Assembly is made up our state Senators and Delegates.

This legislative session, the General Assembly passed two pieces of legislation that will impact our ability to access solar. The first, SB 1393 creates a path for the state’s utilities to develop solar projects by allowing Virginians to participate in a voluntary subscription program. The second, SB 1394, modifies the rules by which agricultural producers can build and get credit for solar. That our legislature is considering ways to further enable solar in Virginia demonstrates that solar is making progress in Virginia. But, both bills raise concerns about who will benefit from the increased penetration of solar in the Commonwealth.

SB 1393 lets utilities create solar subscription programs. This would allow utility customers to pay a premium subscription rate for solar energy that is not located on their property. This is a positive step, as it creates another way for Virginians to benefit from solar. However, lawmakers have incorrectly titled this as the “community solar bill”. This is misleading.

Real community solar is when the community, not a monopoly utility, owns and develops a shared solar project. Real community solar enables utility customers to own or lease a share of a solar project and see a positive financial return. Instead, the bill passed by the General Assembly does not allow direct community ownership or administration of the project.

Under SB 1393, the utility decides where the project will be built and acts as a middleman buying the power from the solar array owner and then selling it to the consumer. SB 1393 also lets the utility buy the solar array project itself, which makes such projects just another form of utility-provided energy.

SB 1394 aims to increase the amount of solar that farmers can generate on their property and establish a fixed revenue stream for energy production from solar, and other renewable energy sources as well.

Currently, farmers can install systems up to 1,000 kW of solar and produce up to 100% of their energy and get full energy credit through net metering. Additionally, farmers are able to ‘aggregate meters’. This means if farmers have more than one energy meter on their property, they can credit the surplus energy that their solar produces to multiple meters. This allows farmers the flexibility to site panels on optimal structures with low electricity usage (such as a barn) and credit the electricity to meters with higher energy demand (but less optimal roofs).

Under SB 1394, farmers can install systems up to 1,500 kW in size and supply up to 150% of the farm’s annual electric needs. The array would not be allowed take up more than 25% of the farm’s land. Importantly, systems under this program will no longer receive net metering credit. Instead, utilities will only have to pay farmers a yet to be determined wholesale rate that it pays to purchase electricity from other suppliers like power plants.

Further, after July 2019, farmers served by electric cooperatives who want to build solar arrays must do so under this new program and will not have the option for net metering or meter aggregation. For existing net-metered farmers served by cooperatives, the program expires in 25 years. Farmers served by other utilities would be permitted to stay under the existing net metering system.

Finally, even though the farmers under the new program are not credited at the net metered rate, these new and larger solar arrays still count towards the Commonwealth’s 1% net metering cap. This is a concerning development as it has the potential to harm other ratepayers like homes and businesses that do not benefit from this program by blocking their access to net metering should the 1% cap be reached.

That the General Assembly is developing ways to help more Virginians go solar is a positive step forward. We should be concerned the rules they are putting into place would take us two steps back. Stay informed about future legislation and learn how you can fight for your solar rights by signing up for the VA SUN newsletter.

New solar co-op forms in Greater Richmond area

Neighbors across the greater Richmond area have formed the Greater Richmond Solar Co-op to save money and make going solar easier, while building a network of solar supporters. Drive Electric RVA, the Richmond Temple, RVA HUB, and VA SUN are the co-op sponsors. The group is seeking members and will host two information meetings March 13 at the Glen Allen Library and March 28 at the Pamunkey Regional Library to educate the community about solar and the co-op process.

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. 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.

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

Neighbors in Augusta, Highland, Rockbridge, and Rockingham Counties have formed the Mountain and Valley Solar Co-op to save money and make going solar easier, while building a network of solar supporters. The Rockbridge Area Conservation Council, Climate Action Alliance of the Valley, Virginia Clean Cities, James Madison University’s Center for Wind Energy and VA SUN are the co-op sponsors. The group is seeking members and will host three information meetings on March 6 (in Lexington), March 7 (in Verona), and March 8 (in Harrisonburg) to educate the community about solar and the co-op process.

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. 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.

 

 

Co-op member uses solar to pump water

Like many co-op members, Middle Peninsula Solar Co-op member John Elkin worked with the group to go solar on his home. But, John also worked with the co-op to have a three-panel ground mounted system installed on farm property in Gloucester. The system provides electricity to a small water pump for Elkin’s 189-acre farm.

“The nearest electric lines were close to a mile away, so it would cost about $100,000 to get electricity,” Elkin said. “That’s why I went with solar.”

Elkin’s pump can provide 12 gallons of water per minute, far more he says, than his well can provide. “As we speak, it’s producing three gallons per minute.”

The pump is powered by Direct Current (DC) electricity, meaning there’s no need for an inverter, which is found on most home solar systems. Inverters change the DC electricity generated by solar panels to Alternating Current (AC), which is used by most homes and appliances. There is a tank to store the pumped water as well as a pond for when the tank gets full.

Elkin leases some of his land for a farmer, while using the remaining space for a combination of beekeeping and timer.

The well was drilled about a year ago. Elkin had been interested in adding a solar powered pump, and when the co-op came along, that provided a great opportunity for him to go solar.

Newport News co-op selects installer

The Newport News Solar Co-op has selected Convert Solar to install solar panels for the 25-member group. Co-op members selected the company through a competitive bidding process over six other firms.

The co-op is open to new members from Virginia Beach to Williamsburug until April 15. If you are interested in joining the co-op can sign up at http://www.vasun.org/newport-news/.

Joining the co-op is not a commitment to purchase panels. Convert 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 can save up to 20% off the cost of their system.

 

Solar and taxes: Paying what you owe and getting paid what you’re owed

(NOTE: The information in this article should not be construed as tax advice. We recommend you check with your tax adviser on this credit and tax preparation questions.)

Tax season is here. For new solar owners, that may mean a significant tax credit. If you are a new solar owner it is important you understand what you can and can’t deduct as part of your new solar system.

The federal government offers a non-refundable 30% credit off your system’s purchased cost. For this tax season, this credit can be recovered for systems placed in service before the end of 2016. This credit is covered under section 25D of the IRS code. The relevant sections are 25D(d)(2), 25D(e)(2), and 25D(d)8. The Federal Tax Credit for homeowners is scheduled to lower to 26% in 2020 and 22% in 2021. It is set to expire at the end of 2023.

This credit reduces the amount of tax you will pay in the year you take the credit. Assume you paid $10,000 for a solar system and your total tax bill that year was $6,500. You would get a $3,000 tax credit. So, your final tax bill would be $3,500. Assuming that you paid taxes through withholding from your paycheck or made quarterly estimated tax payments, you would probably get money back in a refund.

Under the same scenario, let’s assume your tax bill was only $2,000. You can only take the tax credit up to zeroing out your tax liability for the year. But, you would be able to roll the remaining credit over to account for your taxes the next year, so you aren’t losing out if you can’t take the entire credit in one year.

Solar customers are able to take the tax credit starting the year their system goes into service. So, if your system was installed in December, but it wasn’t approved by the utility company to be switched on until January, the conservative approach would be to wait until the next year to claim the tax credit. Interpretations vary on the exact meaning of “in service” however. An alternate interpretation would be when the system is fully installed and tested by the installer and subsequently inspected and approved for use by your local jurisdiction.

Does that 30% cover covering?

A key solar tax question is does the credit apply to structural improvements you need to make in order to complete the installation. For example, let’s say you had to make improvements to your roof as part of your installation. Is that covered?

Here’s what the IRS says:

Qualified solar electric property costs are costs for property that uses solar energy to generate electricity for use in your home located in the United States. No costs relating to a solar panel or other property installed as a roof (or portion thereof) will fail to qualify solely because the property constitutes a structural component of the structure on which it is installed.

This would seem to indicate that you may be able to include the costs of roofing into the tax credit as long as it is a structural component of the installation. A practical example of this would be if a home needed to have its roof re-enforced (the rafters or trusses for example) to support an installation that may be covered under the tax credit whereas replacement of roofing shingles, since they are not structural in nature, would not be covered.

What you’ll owe

The 30% tax credit only applies if you own your system. If you lease your system, the company you lease from is eligible to take the tax credit. If you own your system (you pay cash or finance your purchase through a loan), you will also own any Solar Renewable Energy Credits (SRECs) generated by the system. The money you earn from selling these SRECs is taxable. Think of this like capital gains taxes you would have to pay upon the sale of a stock.

Everyone’s system and tax situation is unique. If you have questions, you should contact a qualified tax professional.