After years of combating, Virginia is permitting some Dominion Vitality Virginia prospects to purchase photo voltaic vitality from unbiased suppliers of shared photo voltaic, also called neighborhood photo voltaic.
Do not clap, although. Dominion used the rulemaking course of and its management of the interconnection undertaking to create obstacles for shared photo voltaic that lawmakers by no means anticipated. Excessive minimal charges, prolonged interconnection research necessities and costly gear calls for are stalling tasks and driving away all however the strongest builders.
The blow that obtained probably the most consideration occurred through the rulemaking course of. The State Company Fee dominated that Dominion might cost a minimal price averaging $55 per 30 days to most prospects. The minimal price is added to the price of the electrical energy itself, making shared photo voltaic so costly that this system isn’t supplied to the general public.
Nonetheless, lawmakers included a provision that exempts low-to moderate-income (LMI) members from the invoice’s minimal necessities. Thus, the SCC order made the shared photo voltaic program a program for LMI residents solely.
In truth, the primary shared photo voltaic undertaking for LMI Virginians was launched on Nov. 9 in Dumfries as a partnership between neighborhood photo voltaic developer Dimension Renewable Vitality and low-income housing supplier Group Housing Companions. Subscribers are advised to anticipate to avoid wasting 10% on their electrical energy payments. The companions are signing up members now however have not damaged floor on a photo voltaic facility to serve them.
Sen. Scott Surovell, D-Fairfax, the creator of the legislation that created the shared photo voltaic program, attended the launch of the Dimension undertaking to share within the celebration. However he nonetheless believes that this system ought to be accessible to everybody. He confirmed to me that he’s working with the neighborhood photo voltaic trade to develop laws that addresses the minimal invoice drawback.
Surovell says he continues to suppose the minimal wage is critical; the query is what price can be “commercially viable for neighborhood photo voltaic applications” whereas nonetheless capturing “a good quantity of the system prices and legacy prices” borne by Dominion in offering the service to members if the photo voltaic facility doesn’t produce electrical energy.
Interconnection issues: delays, excessive prices and ‘darkish fibre’
Though Surovell is ready to thread the needle, the minimal cost is simply probably the most seen drawback dealing with shared photo voltaic within the Dominion territory. Photo voltaic amenities should connect with the grid, which places Dominion accountable for the interconnection course of. Builders say they encounter lengthy delays, excessive prices and unreasonable gear necessities.
Earlier this yr, the State Company Fee opened a docket to solicit suggestions on the interconnection course of – and the consequence was an outpouring of complaints.
As described in feedback from the photo voltaic trade, Dominion requires cost-prohibitive “black fiber” for grid safety in lieu of the a lot inexpensive trade customary method. Dominion was additionally delayed in conducting the research that every new undertaking proposal should undergo on the developer’s expense, leading to timelines of 16 months or extra. Extra amenities that can use the identical substation are usually not thought of till the research course of for the primary one is full, creating extra delays.
Builders had been additionally not advised till the ultimate stage how a lot Dominion anticipated to cost them to attach their array — and even then, Dominion added a disclaimer that its estimate was not binding. That uncertainty, the trade says, makes tasks troublesome to finance and dangerous for builders.
These inefficiencies and pointless prices drive up undertaking prices and make distributed photo voltaic dearer for purchasers, whether it is even potential. Tony Smith, president of photo voltaic developer Safe Futures, advised me his firm needs to construct a 1 megawatt shared photo voltaic facility to serve LMI prospects in Augusta County. They received the positioning and permits earlier than studying that Dominion wanted darkish fiber and deliberate to cost them $1 million for the interconnection, a sum too excessive to chop the undertaking quick.
(For context, photo voltaic trade estimates put the complete price of creating community-scale photo voltaic at a mean of $1.4 million per megawatt.)
Smith says that enormous tasks can take up the surplus interconnection charges, however smaller tasks can not. In any case, excessive interconnection prices inevitably imply larger prices for purchasers.
Trade commenters have famous areas the place Dominion has tried to deal with points, notably rushing up research timelines. However with regard to different necessities, particularly people who impose the very best prices, the utility has proven little willingness to maneuver. In some cases, the corporate seems to be utilizing its interconnection energy to allow non-public builders to shoulder their very own prices of upgrading the grid. It is exhausting to not suspect that Dominion is completely glad making different individuals’s photo voltaic tasks dearer.
The photo voltaic trade temporary describes steps different states are taking to make the method fairer, sooner and cheaper. But when the Division of Public Utility Regulation employees report is any indication, the SCC is extra more likely to take a gradual method involving working teams, pilot research and a multi-step course of. Smith says it will all take years, at which level shared photo voltaic builders will surrender on Virginia and take their enterprise to friendlier states. He needs to see the Basic Meeting handle probably the most urgent issues.
Surovell says he is “heard about” interconnection points however “hasn’t actually centered on it.” Charlie Coggeshall, mid-Atlantic director of the Coalition for Group Photo voltaic Entry, advised me that “interconnection is a barrier for shared photo voltaic in Virginia and completely wants enhancements,” however mentioned his group is concentrated on SCC course of and at present there aren’t any plans to pursue a legislative repair.
Dominion serves about two-thirds of Virginia’s prospects, so fixing the minimal invoice and interconnection issues will open up shared photo voltaic to a large swath of residents throughout the state. That also leaves one other third. Advocates hope to develop the supply of shared photo voltaic within the territory of Appalachian Energy and Virginia’s electrical cooperatives.
Some co-ops launched their very own neighborhood photo voltaic applications pre-pandemic, however most did not provide one and apparently did not wish to. As for Appalachian Energy, it has at all times opposed neighborhood photo voltaic, saying it might probably’t afford to lose prospects. (Then again, Appalachian Energy doesn’t require set up of darkish fiber as a situation of interconnection, thereby making it friendlier to distributed era – not simply shared photo voltaic tasks.)
Multifamily shared photo voltaic scores a win, no matter earnings stage
Whereas shared photo voltaic faces an uphill battle, some excellent news has are available in a second case that carried out a associated program, this one licensed by the 2020 Photo voltaic Freedom Act and designed for onsite photo voltaic in flats and condominiums. The multifamily shared photo voltaic (MFSS) program makes it potential for a landlord or condominium affiliation to put in a photo voltaic facility to serve solely its personal residents. This program occupies the center floor between photo voltaic and neighborhood internet metering, and the enabling laws permits Dominion to impose an administrative price however not a minimal price or every other charges.
Earlier, the SCC indicated a willingness to permit Dominion to include elements of the shared photo voltaic minimal price legislation into the MFSS administrative price. That will have been the tip of this system proper there. In its ultimate order, nevertheless, a standard definition of “administrative price” prevailed, and the SCC dominated that Dominion couldn’t put its enterprise prices towards the price.
The SCC nonetheless set the MFSS administrative price at an unusually excessive $13.40 per 30 days, accepting Dominion’s argument that it ought to do all billing manually. The SCC additionally dominated that prospects should pay sure “non-reimbursable charges” that common about $3 per 30 days. The legislation doesn’t permit these expenses, however the SCC argues that it doesn’t prohibit them both.
Even with Dominion getting $16 or extra, the economics aren’t that prohibitive. Builders warning, nevertheless, that the restricted subscriber base for any MFSS undertaking makes it troublesome to work with this program, even when the constructing is giant and the property can accommodate a fair-sized facility. in photo voltaic. And even onsite photo voltaic arrays are usually not essentially resistant to interconnection difficulties.
Nonetheless, there may be plenty of buyer curiosity within the multifamily program, particularly from condominium associations that may finance the tasks themselves. Hopefully, they may pave the best way for others to comply with.
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