Four co-ops petition Virginia utility regulators to start community solar pilot

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Four Virginia electric co-operatives have petitioned the Virginia State Corporation Commission (VSCC) to begin a community solar pilot program under legislation passed last year called the Community Solar Act.

The pilot, which the co-operatives expect to last three years, would provide for the construction of two facilities in the state, the power from which members could subscribe.

The four cooperatives asking for approval are Rappahannock Electric Cooperative, A and N Electric Cooperative, Mecklenburg Electric Cooperative  and Northern Neck Electric Cooperative, all of whom are members of Old Dominion Electric Cooperative (ODEC).

ODEC currently has 30 MW of solar in its portfolio, which provides members with some access to solar already. Under the new program, customers who want a larger percentage of solar would receive a predetermined amount of their electricity from solar sources each month.

The cooperatives expect to receive approval of their community solar pilot programs later this spring and hope to begin offering solar subscriptions this summer.

Central Virginia Electric Cooperative, which is not a participant in ODEC, submitted an application in December to begin a similar program.

Community solar is not unheard of in Virginia. A 550 kW system in the Shenandoah Valley, owned by BARC Electric, was the Commonwealth’s first community solar project and was commissioned in 2016.

In May, then-Governor Terry McAuliffe signed four bills into law designed to kickstart solar development in the state. In addition to the community solar law, the laws:

  • increased the maximum size of renewable projects from 100 MW to 125 MW and exempted residential rooftop from having to apply for and receive a Certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity from the Virginia State Corporation Commission, which oversees utility regulation in the state;
  • created a Power Purchase Agreement (PPA) pilot program, under the auspices of ApCo, to encourage private colleges and universities to add solar to their electricity portfolio; and
  • converted the Virginia Solar Energy Development Authority to the Virginia Solar Energy and Battery Storage Development Authority, reflecting the growing importance of batter-storage technology in the future of the solar industry. It also expanded participation in the authority by four seats.

It should be noted that the Virginia Solar Energy and Energy Storage Authority (VSEESA) has been largely ineffective in promoting solar in the Commonwealth,  soliciting a mere 10 MW of small-scale solar in September. The VSEESA has been existence since 2015.