Virginia puts online its first community solar plant

Yesterday Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe led a ceremony for the commissioning of the state’s first community solar project, a 550 kW system in the Shenandoah Valley. The system is owned by BARC Electric, a cooperative with 30,000 members, and will initially provide electricity for 212 homes and businesses in BARC’s service area.

Community solar has become an exciting area of growth for the solar industry, as a way to bring the benefits of solar to a range of customers who are not eligible for rooftop PV. However, EQ Research notes that to date the large majority of community solar projects have been built in states including New York, Colorado, Maryland and Minnesota which have a policy framework for community renewable energy projects. Virginia lacks such policies.

“Another way to look at this is that in the states without enabling policies, there is nothing to animate a private market and while you may see projects, they are utility-driven based on an individual utility electing to develop a program,” EQ Research Director of Research Justin Barnes told pv magazine.

The absence of a policy framework does not mean there is no state support. Last year Governor McAuliffe awarded a $500,000 grant to BARC Electric for the project, and the Governor’s Office says that renewable energy is a priority.

“There haven’t been any direct policy change to this point, it’s more a matter of emphasis – our administration has made expanding renewables a key focus of our energy agenda and that effort is paying off,” states Brian Coy from Office of Governor Terry McAuliffe.

Additionally, the Solar Research Institute has formed an advisory committee including representative of electric cooperatives and the state’s largest utilities to investigate policies for community solar in the state.