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Mount Vernon Column: Seeking ‘Solar Co-ops’ for Residents

One of the areas of my legislation this year includes continuing state Sen. Scott Surovell’s efforts to enact solar net metering policies in the Commonwealth. Currently there are several problems with solar panel construction in residential areas, which affect much of the heavily-wooded Mount Vernon community.

Solar panels are expensive; they have a high initial investment and save money over a long period of time. They also do not work in neighborhoods with dense tree canopies, like Hollin Hills and Stratford Landing.

The process of installing and setting up solar paneling is also complicated. To address these barriers to entry, some states allow “Solar Co-Ops,” which are groups that buy solar panels and pay for installation en masse, in order to help reduce costs and simplify installation.

My legislation, House Bill 618 encourages the construction of residential scale solar panels at a community level. It gives consumers the option between conventional fossil fuel energy, and renewable energy at no increased cost to them.

This legislation simplifies the process for small groups of people (10 or more) to invest in solar energy by creating a “solar energy plan.” They could either contract out the purchase and installation of solar panels, or do it themselves. After the panels are installed, their power company would offer them something called a “Net Metering Credit.”

This credit is a calculation of the amount of electricity the solar garden supplies, multiplied by the residential rate for electricity, minus a reasonable charge for the cost of setting up the net metering program, transmitting electricity from the solar garden to peoples homes, and integrating the systems electrical output into the electrical grid. Typically for a monthly fee, or initial investment people buy into the Solar Garden, and then have those Net Metering Credit’s applied towards their future bills.

The implementation of this bill could take many forms. Community solar gardens are most efficient at an apartment level. The transmission of electricity is highly expensive, and apartment complexes have the cheapest transmission costs. This plan is still very viable on other levels, depending on how easy it is to connect the Community Solar Garden to the electrical grid.

Not only are Community Solar Gardens a good way of decreasing your carbon impact, over the long run they can save money. Through buying into and installing Solar Co-Ops, you can greatly reduce the overall initial cost and greatly reduce your utility costs. Over the course of your solar panels lifetime, it pays for itself.

Solar Community Gardens currently exist in California, Colorado, Florida, Massachusetts, and Utah. It’s been successful in all five states, especially in California. Consumers in California pay $10.75 a month to opt into Solar Power Production. Then they get a tax credit which typically ranges from $4-$50 a month. The current solar opt in is sold out there, with plans to expand.

It is my hope this bill would bring that sort of expansion in renewable energy, and cost savings for consumers that other states are seeing.

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