Richmond, VA – With one solar panel in the state for every 100 people, Virginia remained near the bottom of an annual ranking of solar power capacity, and utilities like Dominion Resources and their allies would just as soon keep it that way.
Environment Virginia Research & Policy Center’s new study shows that as embattled utilities witness the growing popularity and adoption of solar energy across the country, they’re girding for a fight everywhere they can. While they may be fighting the hardest where solar is flourishing the most, they aren’t confining their attacks to the top solar states.
For instance, our main electric utility provider here in Virginia, Dominion Resources, was recently ranked last out of the 30 largest electric utilities in the nation in both incremental annual energy efficiency and life cycle energy efficiency in a report by Ceres. This is due to weak state policies that are helping solar thrive in other states, such as net metering policies or a renewable energy standard.
“The more solar grows here in Virginia, the more big utilities try to stop it,” said Becca Oliver, Campaign Organizer with Environment Virginia. “Even in the face of strong public support for pollution-free energy, Dominion Resources [and others] are working to block the policies that would help us catch up with our neighbors.”
The study’s top states for solar capacity per capita -- Nevada, Hawaii, California, Arizona, North Carolina, New Jersey, Vermont, New Mexico, Massachusetts and Colorado – have for years held in common pro-clean energy policies, such as strong net metering programs and interconnection standards.
But the inducements for growing numbers of homes, businesses and schools to go solar are increasingly under attack by utilities, who view distributed clean energy generation as a direct threat to their business model.
Last year utilities convinced officials in Hawaii as well as Nevada to eliminate their net metering programs, while earlier this year California’s program narrowly withstood a high-profile utility assault. In Arizona, one major utility charged a new fee on new solar customers, depressing rooftop solar power growth in its 1 million-person service area; two other utilities in the state are now pressing to institute similar charges and eliminate their retail net metering programs.
Yet attacks like these haven’t yet stemmed the tide of solar power. In February it cleared the milestone of 1 million installations across the country, and is expected to add another million in just two years’ time as prices continue to plummet. Even here in lagging Virginia, we still saw this growth.
“Virginia continues to be a challenging state to work in due to policy, but Secure Futures is pushing ahead with projects from schools to hospitals across the state,” says Amory Fischer of Secure Futures.
Here in Virginia, small businesses, local elected officials, and average Americans are demonstrating their support of the increasingly cost-competitive energy source, a crucial part of the solution to global warming. So far in July alone, Environment Virginia has gathered 1,223 petitions, 114 handwritten letters, and sign-on’s from over 50 local businesses, elected officials, and health professionals pushing governor McAuliffe to support renewable energy in our state. In addition, recent polls show more than 56 percent of Virginia voters strongly support policies to expand clean energy.
“People are excited about solar”, said Andrew Grigsby of LEAP, “And our work bringing local clean energy, cost savings, and economic development certainly would be much more successful if Virginia had just a few of the incentives that neighboring states have.”
Despite utility attacks, many pro-solar policies remain in the 10 leading-edge states, who make up 88 percent of the nation’s solar capacity but less than a third of its population. All have renewable energy requirements, for example, and nine have strong laws to allow solar customers to connect to the electricity grid.
"Despite a lack of incentives in their state, some Virginians have been taking the initiative to install their own solar arrays,” added Susan Hill of Richmond Regional Energy Alliance. “We need, however, to implement solar friendly policies to encourage and assist more home and business owners to make this clean energy investment. Solar must become a mainstream option for all Virginians. We cannot rely solely on early adopters to be the driving force for renewable energy."
Environment Virginia said it was time for Dominion Resources to allow the state to realize its vast solar potential.
“These attacks by Dominion and their allies are a desperate finger in the dike against the tide of support for solar,” said Oliver. “It’s time for Dominion to stop blocking clean energy and ride the solar wave.”