For a brief period at the beginning of 2016, Virginia’s legislature looked like it might have been gearing up to strap down and improve the solar market in the state. Such legislation is necessary, as Virginia ranks 32nd in the country with only 18MW of solar energy installed according to the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA).
Furthermore, as we have previously discussed, Virginia came in with a “C” in the solar net metering class of 2015. Its neighbor, Maryland, on the other hand, came in with an “A” and is 12th in the nation with 321MW of solar energy, 4,300 people employed in the sector, and a 95% increase in solar investment over 2014. Virginia has less than half of the solar jobs in Maryland, coming in with under 2,000 solar workers.
It is about time that Virginia stepped up, and legislation this session offered a glint of hope that it just might. However, despite a valiant effort by MDV-SEIA, a collection of pro-solar legislation was tabled in Richmond last week after a heavy showing from opposition.
So, which bills are amongst the dearly departed? Here are a few highlights.
This Session’s Obituaries: Will They Live to See another Day?
HB 1050 and SB142 – this team of bills sought to establish a 30 percent state tax credit for solar thermal systems (though not their solar PV companion).
HB 1285 – would have authorized community energy programs, which allow multiple customers to subscribe to clean energy from an offsite location. It is an idea that is catching on across the country to provide more equitable access to clean energy, and this bill was solar advocates’ push to have community solar programs enter the Virginia market.
HB 1286 – like 1285, was a darling child of solar advocates across the state. It was an all-encompassing piece of legislation providing for the allowance of third party financing through power purchase agreements, lifting the one percent cap on net metering, and authorizing community and “agricultural” net metering programs. Over half of U.S. states and the District of Columbia allow for third party financing, but not Virginia, which has made solar’s cost prohibitive for its citizens.
HB 480 – sought to establish a tax credit equal to 35 percent of installed renewable energy and define the aggregate amount of credit allowed to each person for placing into service renewable energy during the taxable year.
Virginia’s neighbor to the South, North Carolina, had a 35 percent tax credit until recently, which according to data from the N.C. Department of Revenue generated the state $717 million in spending and capital investment in 2014, with only $126 million claimed. North Carolina also ranks 4th in the country for solar capacity with 6,000 solar jobs. You snooze, you lose, Virginia.
SB 761 – looked to establish a mandatory Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) in Virginia, which would have required 25 percent of generated power to come from renewable energy by 2025. The current RPS in Virginia is voluntary, and as such, symbolic in nature. Hence one of the many reasons for little solar growth in the state.
SB 779 – was a bill that survived past the others. It was poised to be a weaker version of HB 1286, which still would have been major progress for the state. However, this bill was also tabled…for now.
The Last Bill Standing
HB 1305- is the only solar bill still standing in Virginia’s legislature. It provides a tax exemption worth 100 percent of the solar energy systems value for projects 5MW and under, and for projects from 6MW-20MW that file for interconnection before December 31, 2018. It also drops the tax exemption to 80 percent for projects above 20MW starting January 1, 2017.
The Living Dead: Summing it Up
Clearly, some of these bills were stronger than others in regards to promoting clean energy, but all of the above were kept from moving forward in this legislative session. So, the question is
Will There be a Resurrection?
Fingers crossed, yes. As the discussions stand these bills have been “carried over,” and will be discussed again at special subcommittee this upcoming summer.
So, if you are a Virginia customer do not lose hope, but do not just sit tight. Reach out, speak out, and ask for solar because maybe the umpteenth time Virginia discusses solar energy might just be the charm! As for the solar industry, with such a large laundry list of requests, it is time to rally around the priority bill that has the biggest likelihood of passing and allowing the local renewable energy economy to flourish.
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