Virginia has a nascent solar energy program and until recently has lagged behind other states in terms of solar installations. Now that Dominion is on-board with bringing 500 MW of solar to the commonwealth of Virginia, it would be a good time to look at mechanisms that spur community involvement and investment in shared solar projects that can then be connected to our grid.
One such policy - virtual net metering - is an extension of net metering which is already in place here in Virginia. Virtual net metering would allow Virginia ratepayers to invest in a local community energy project and have their share of the project accounted for on a 'virtual net meter' that would be aggregated on the bill.
This allows for better site selection for solar and distributed energy projects. Many roofs are not able to sustain a solar array for various reasons, and this would allow those homeowners a chance to green their energy bills and lock in fixed energy rates for that portion of their bill.
This brings additional financing to bear for community solar projects, as with larger projects the tax advantages from the solar Investment Tax Credit (ITC) are hard for single homeowners to financially internalize.
Build one larger array versus several smaller arrays will cost less, have fewer regulatory demands for inspection and permitting, and will generate a better rate of return for rate paying investors without any of the worry of maintain an array on your residence. For renters that move every year or so here in northern Virginia virtual net metering would be one of the few ways to invest in solar technology and help stabilize your energy bill.
1] "5 Reasons Virtual Net Metering is Better than Plain Ol' Net Metering"[2 "Here's how to get solar power if you don't own a roof" http://www.vox.com/2015/6/25/8...
Governor Terrence McAuliffe
In my previous letter urging your veto of Senate Bill SB 1349, it is important to describe a framework of what a replacement would look like, or what amendments might be feasible to foster wider roll-out of solar in the Commonwealth.
Solar energy jobs in southern Virginia should be the focus of the next three years of your term. It takes 9 acres to generate 1 megawatt of AC solar power, and given the proper incentives setting aside solar array acreage might be a good crop for farmers in this tight economy.
In Germany 46% of their 63,000 MW of installed renewable energy is locally owned by individuals and farmers. Japan has more electric vehicle charging stations than gas stations. PG&E is asking California to install a network of 25,000 EV charging stations.
Finding funding for all of this is the trick and I'd like to suggest a few mechanisms that might allow citizens and communities in the Commonwealth to share ownership of our nascent renewable energy infrastructure.
Dominion already has pieces of this in place. The Dominion Green Power program allows subscribers to add a 1.3 cent per kilowatt hour charge to their bill to source clean power. Dominion charges a 100% premium for overhead and administration of this program and consumers wind up with clean power but no ownership of the infrastructure.
To take this a step further I recommend that Dominion offer a 'Green Share' program similar to their GPP that allows groups of individuals to crowdsource financing for selected clean energy projects that are designed by Dominion but owned by the community.
Recent Senate Bill SB 1349 ("Electric utility regulation; suspension of regulatory reviews of utility earnings") needs your attention. The issue with this bill is neither Republican nor Democratic, but rather a consumer issue. As rate-payers, as voters and even as legislators we are being told by a monopoly corporation that we have no control over the most fundamental operating assumption as energy consumers, namely what direction the price curve should point for electrical service in the Commonwealth of Virginia.
Dominion has called for rates to be fixed for five years at a high price, just after a rate increase last year. When pushed, Dominion offered up 500 megawatts of new Virginia solar power, as well as nominal energy efficiency efforts. That these things were offered up effortlessly, at the last minute, suggests that they were part of the mix Dominion intended all along.
I have read the Dominion Integrated Resource Plan for 2014 and was impressed with the modeling the company does to run a multi-state energy corporation. Dominion is entrusted with the control of two nuclear reactors and to make decisions costing hundreds of millions of ratepayer dollars. Yet, per Senate Bill SB 1349, Dominion gets no oversight of their profits, because it supposedly does not know what its profit perspective over five years will be, after adding 500 megawatts of solar and energy efficiency to their bottom line. This strains credibility.
I wanted to get some context before reading Elizabeth Kolbert's book The Sixth Extinction and turned to Peter D. Ward's Under a Green Sky for the historical context of previous extinction events. It was quite an interesting What-Did-It that covers what we know about the past extinction events and how scientists gathered evidence of their causes. It was written in 2006 and as such doesn't include many of the Greenland and Antarctic science that has scientists even more alarmed.
Much of the early science weighed toward asteroids slamming into the earth, which in turn obscured the sun, killed plants and then the dinosaurs. With thorough examination of the geological fossil record in places across the globe where the extinction boundary is accessible, the state of our known science has evolved.
It turns out only one of the great five extinction events involved a 6-mile wide asteroid impact; the K-T impact that cause the Cretaceous-Tertiary mass extinction event 65 million years ago.
The rest were caused by massive volcanism events altering the composition of our atmosphere with massive influxes of carbon dioxide.
The extinction process starts with a sudden increase of carbon dioxide and methane. In the case of past extinction events this comes from the formation of vast volcanic provinces called flood basalts. Our current extinction era is driven by industrialization, fossil fuels, industrial farming practices and deforestation.
Today's article by Chris Mooney in the Washington Post, titled "The climate debate is brutal and dysfunctional, but there's still a way out" talks about just such a signal; one that both conservatives and liberals can embrace. He points to a "carbon tax that returns all the revenue from the tax to citizens, rather than using any of it for new government programs".
There are precedents for just such an arrangement in use already with the Alaska Energy Fund, which distributes oil revenues to Alaskans and what British Columbia has done with a carbon tax that has reduced its citizens' overall taxes.
A price on carbon - irrespective of the transferred money puts carbon decisions all across the economy on the bottom lines of businesses, incentivizing them to avoid this cost through replacement (solar / wind for electric companies) and energy efficiency in other smaller firms.
Want less of something - tax it. The straight through rebate makes it a wash for end consumers of energy but putting it on balance sheets brings business intelligence and creativity to bear to avoid it.
On the consumer angle slightly higher energy prices will incentivize consumers to make more efficient choices, invest in tightening their homes, cutting out superfluous trips, carpool, switch light bulbs which they will be able to afford with their dividend from the energy fund.
Given that we have already seen an example of a carbon tax enacted and repealed in Australia, it behooves us to look at the disbursement mechanism as a way to give the recipients ownership in the politics of a carbon energy fund.
Some links for thought below the fold...