Richmond, VA – Last Thursday, the House Commerce and Labor energy sub-committee voted on a number of renewable energy bills that left audience-members shocked.
What was so shocking? Mainly, it was not all (non-utility owned) solar legislation was slashed and burned, which historically has been a favorite hobby of this sub-committee.
In fact, it was a pleasant surprise to see that some good bills made it out alive.
The decisions made on two pieces of solar legislation stand out: Del. Mark Keam’s (D-Fairfax) HB 2329 on Distributed Renewable Energy and Del. Kathy Tran’s (D-Fairfax) HB 2792 that would allow Municipal Net Metering.
Despite the fact that Del. Keam’s HB 2329 was the last bill to be heard that evening, the bill had long line of supporters who had appeared in person, with over a dozen individuals prepared to testify.
Before even half of the supporters were able to testify, Delegate Marshall made a motion to report the bill out of sub-committee. After the motion was quickly seconded, a vote was cast to report the bill out, five for vs. four against. So, the ayes had it.
Solar advocates had only a moment to celebrate this shocking victory before a short side-discussion between the chairman and the bill’s patron took place.
This private caucus resulted in the patron asking for the bill to be passed by for the day. One surprise after another.
Even a government affairs veteran would say this was highly unusual.
This bill will be heard again on Thursday, 1/31 before the House Commerce and Labor energy sub-committee.
The second surprise of the night was the decision on Del. Tran’s bill, which would allow municipalities to install solar or another renewable energy source to generate their electricity and receive the benefits of behind-the-meter net-metering.
With the blessing from our largest investor-owned utility Dominion Energy, Del. Tran’s bill was also reported out of committee.
The shock of seeing this bill get the green light might linger until you understand this bill beyond its face value.
While this bill creates an opportunity for municipalities to take advantage of net metering, it fails to provide legs for this program to stand on.
Let me explain. The bill does not solve for a much larger problem that greatly affects the ability of municipalities to go solar in the first place: the aggregate caps built into Virginia’s PPA Pilot Program.
By year-end 2018, Virginia had 11 megawatts of PPA projects placed in service and in the queue according to the Department of Mines, Minerals and Energy (DMME).
With the number of customers in the pipeline, the PPA solar market has projected that the Dominion Energy program cap will be reached in 2019 or at the latest, in 2020.
Unfortunately, the state’s distributed solar market will hit turbulence well before the caps are reached due to market uncertainty. As the program’s aggregate megawatts are eaten up, developers will be less confident of their ability to deploy projects and therefore, less likely to commit to the large financial investments associated with them.
And without PPAs to address the high capital cost hurdles, very few municipalities will be able to go solar and actually benefit from the provisions of this municipal net metering bill should it pass.
Today, the full Senate Commerce and Labor committee will take up this legislation, along with an assortment of other renewable energy and energy efficiency bills.
But if you’ve seen them once, you’ve seen them all!
Anything Dominion-backed will be reported out of this committee and eventually codified, and anything that threatens company profits will ultimately die, even if it’s better for ratepayers and communities across the Commonwealth.
As always, it’s sad to see the private interest of a monopoly utility beat out the public interest in getting more distributed solar on schools and government buildings across Virginia. But we’ll continue to work with clean energy advocates from across industries to stand up for Virginians’ right to clean, affordable rooftop solar power.
— Rachel Smucker, Secure Futures Solar