One of the state’s most budget-constrained public school systems Richmond Public Schools (RPS)will soon implement cutting-edge technology that will save the school district millions of dollars over the next 20 years: RPS is installing 2.59 megawatts of solar on school rooftops that will generate a portion of their electricity load. The best part?
The installation and on-going operations and maintenance of these panels came with zero upfront cost to the school system or community.
Through a power purchase agreement (PPA) with Secure Futures, the school division will get on-campus solar power with no capital cost. The company will sell 100% of the solar power produced to the school division at a rate lower than what they are currently paying to their electric utility, Dominion.
This will save RPS approximately $2 million in energy costs over the next 20 years. In addition, Secure Futures will help the schools integrate the solar panels into classroom work through teacher training and SOL-compliant curricula from the National Energy Education Development (NEED) project.
To many, this may sound like a deal that is “too good to be true”however, developers like Secure Futures have been partnering with their customers for years using PPAs. Other schools, as well as local governments, hospitals and universities across the state have procured solar through a PPA and have already started to see significant savings to their electricity bills, with the same electricity reliability they experienced before they went solar.
For schools and other public entities, PPAs can be extremely advantageous: money saved each month from the electricity bill can be fed back into curriculum, teacher salaries, student programming and more.
Despite this win-win deal, there are state limitations enacted by law that restrict the amount of PPAs that can be contracted in each utility service territory. And one utility service territory is in danger of hitting its PPA cap limit by the end of the year.
The distributed solar or “rooftop” solar industry, which comprises of residential and commercial-scale solar, has projected that Dominion Energy Virginia’s PPA cap will be hit by Q4 of 2019 or latest by Q1 of 2020.
This poses a huge threat to the growth of the rooftop solar industry: unless the PPA cap is increased, it will brake deployment of new PPAs before the end of 2019 or early 2010. And that will significantly hinder school systems, hospitals and local governments from realizing the economic and environmental benefits that result from going solar.
A number of bills have been introduced in this year’s General Assembly session that address the PPA cap and seek to knock down other barriers to rooftop solar; however only a few have survived:
HB 2547 (Hugo) and SB 1769 (Sturtevant) increases the aggregate net metering system cap for customers of electric cooperatives from one percent to five percent and provides an option for a cooperative to choose to go up to seven percent. These bills also make PPAs legal in cooperative service territory. Although this bill removes stand-by charges for cooperative customers, a demand charge slowly phases in over several years as a replacement. With the ‘Rubin Group’ stamp (both bills were negotiated within the Rubin Group, a closed-door negotiation group that includes our investor-owned utilities, the cooperatives, environmental advocates and solar industry representatives), both bills have sailed through committee unanimously.
HB 2741 (Aird) establishes a rebate program for low and moderate-income households that install solar. It was reported from House Commerce and Labor unanimously with an amendment that removed all funding mechanisms.
HB 2792 (Tran) and SB 1779 (Ebbin) creates a 6-year pilot program from municipal net metering for localities in the Dominion and APCo service territories. While this bill allows for helpful policy mechanisms like virtual net metering, it does not address a more pressing problem: the need to expand the PPA Pilot program. Municipalities rely on PPAs as a financing tool to incorporate solar in the first place. Without expanding the PPA program, this bill will only help a select few municipalities before those caps are hit and PPAs are no longer legal in Virginia. With several amendments that shrink the reach of the provisions, these bills have both been reported out of committee.
February 5 marks cross-over for this 400thGeneral Assembly session. Stay tuned as the handful of surviving solar bills cross over to the opposite chamber and continue to make their way through our legislature.
One thing is for sure: Virginia state policy is often the gatekeeper for individuals and organizations alike to take advantage of distributed “roof-top” solar.
We need to keep applying pressure to our state representatives, Administration and other key stakeholders to support strong distributed solar policy here in the Commonwealth, that in turn spurs private and public investment in clean energy, creates thousands of new jobs and savings for taxpayers, and helps to meet local sustainability goals.
Expanding access to distributed solar also helps school systems like Richmond Public Schools re-allocate taxpayer funds back into investments in the school community, like updating