By Leslie Elder, Mid-Atlantic Director for the Coalition for Community Solar Access; and Thad Culley, Regional Director of Vote Solar
Virginia has an exciting opportunity to become a climate leader and transition to a more equitable energy economy. This session, lawmakers can create thousands of jobs, save consumers money, and provide access to solar for all Virginians through the shared solar program in the Virginia Clean Economy Act (SB 851 and HB 1526).
Over the last decade, solar has become a massive economic engine, creating more than 242,000 jobs at more than 10,000 companies in every U.S. state. In 2018, the solar industry generated a whopping $17 billion in investments for the American economy. These investments pay local property taxes, create economic opportunities in both rural and urban communities, establish a sophisticated, high-tech supply chain, provide engineering services, and create the market necessary to move towards a carbon-free energy sector.
But despite the over two million solar energy systems that have been installed in the U.S., physical and financial obstacles remain for over 75% of American households according to Vote Solar and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory. Shared solar programs can remove these barriers by providing access to solar for all Virginians through subscription programs.
The goal of shared solar is to provide equitable access to clean and affordable solar energy to anyone with an electric bill – not just those who have suitable roof space to host a solar array. Shared solar allows multiple individuals, groups, or businesses to own a portion or subscribe to the output of a single solar facility located offsite. Renters, schools, businesses, multi-family units, places of worship, non-profits, and many more would be able to take advantage of the economic and environmental benefits of solar through the shared solar model. Oftentimes, subscribers see a total monthly savings of 10-15%.
So far, 19 states and Washington, D.C. have enacted policies that enable shared solar, enabling 150,000 homes to get solar energy.
Virginia can become the 20th state to enable shared solar by passing the Virginia Clean Economy Act. This exciting new legislation, unveiled last December by Senator Jennifer McClellan and Delegates Rip Sullivan, Jennifer Carroll-Foy, and Alfonso Lopez, proposes a new future for Virginia’s energy economy, including creating a shared solar program. If enacted, Virginia will see new clean energy jobs, more energy choices and a cleaner energy economy. Industry analysis suggests that just the first gigawatt of shared solar would create $1.3 billion in local economic benefits and generate $140 million in property taxes.
Shared solar also offers significant benefits to low-and-moderate income customers, including bill savings and energy burden reduction and access to local, clean energy – often for the first time. Fossil fuel power has disproportionately impacted the health and well-being of low-income communities, particularly communities of color and indigenous communities. Pollution from power plants sited in these communities contributes to high rates of asthma and cancer, and the presence of heavy industry contributes to a cycle of poverty and public disinvestment in neighborhoods that can least afford it. Shared solar can benefit communities who have historically been on the front lines of environmental injustice and negative impacts from traditional energy generation, while creating local jobs, spurring local community investments, and decreasing demand for polluting fossil fuels.
The Virginia Clean Energy Act is a commonsense measure that will create a win-win-win for public health, local jobs and all energy consumers in the Commonwealth. By passing this legislation in the current session, the General Assembly can add Virginia to the growing list of states that offer energy choice and economic opportunity through shared solar programs.