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SCC Approves First Renewable Energy Projects

offshore wind projectOn Friday, November 2, the Virginia State Corporation Commission (“SCC” or “Commission”) approved the first major renewable energy investments by Dominion Energy Virginia (“Dominion”) following the passage of Senate Bill 966 (“SB 966”), the sweeping utility overhaul legislation enacted in March. SB 966 provides that it is “in the public interest” for Dominion and Appalachian Power Company to purchase or construct up to 5,000 MW of new wind and solar energy resources. The legislation specifically states that a wind demonstration project located off Virginia’s coast would be “in the public interest.”

The SCC approved a 12 MW, $300 million offshore wind demonstration project proposed by Dominion, which will be constructed 27 miles off the coast of Virginia Beach. While finding the project to be prudent, the SCC’s Final Order strongly suggests that the application would have been rejected absent legislation deeming such projects to be “in the public interest” as a matter of law.

The Commission’s Final Order stated that the wind proposal “would not be deemed prudent [under this Commission’s] long history of utility regulation or under any common application of the term.” The SCC noted that the offshore wind project, which will be constructed by a Danish energy developer, was not subject to competitive bidding and that the energy costs will be “26 times greater than purchasing energy from the market” and “13.8 times greater than the cost of new solar facilities.” Finally, the Commission found that the project is not needed for Dominion to ensure reliability or meet any forecasted demand. Nonetheless, the Commission concluded that, “as a matter of law,” the Commission’s “factual analysis” of the reasonableness of the project is “subordinate [to] the legislative intent and public policy clearly set forth [by the 2018 amendments.”

The Commission also approved Dominion’s request to purchase 80 MW of solar energy via a power purchase agreement (“PPA”) with a non-utility company, Cypress Creek Renewables. The Commission noted that, unlike the offshore wind project, Dominion customers would be protected from financial and performance risks of the project since the utility is purchasing the energy from private developers.

The Final Order in the offshore wind matter (Case No. PUR-2018-00121) is available here and the Final Order in the solar PPA matter (Case No. PUR-2018-00135) is available here. Please contact one of our energy regulatory attorneys if you have questions about either of these cases.

Continued Progress for Community Solar in Maryland

Maryland’s Community Solar Pilot Program is moving along with dozens of solar facilities in the project queues for Baltimore Gas and Electric CompanyPepco MDDelmarva Power MD, and Potomac Edison Company. The first year of the program has seen strong interest from the Subscriber Organizations that develop and manage the solar facilities. Under the program, customers subscribe to a portion of the output of the community solar facilities, which are called Community Solar Energy Generating Systems.

Many of the solar projects entered the utilities’ production queues last summer, so they will be reaching the operational deadline under the program rules in the next few weeks, unless they request an additional six months. Several Subscriber Organizations have recently filed requests with the Maryland Public Service Commission for extensions, citing permitting delays, program delays, and other implementation challenges.

The program is a great opportunity for electricity customers – including low- and moderate income residents – to access solar energy, particularly those that rent or do not have the ability to install their own solar panels. Under the pilot program, if a community solar facility is located within your utility’s service territory, even if it is across town, you can enroll with a Subscriber Organization and purchase a portion of the energy produced by your community solar system. While subscribed to a solar facility, customers receive a bill credit each month for energy generated by the solar system. Offers from Subscriber Organizations include discounts off the utility’s standard electric rates from around 5%-10%.

Customers won’t actually get their household energy directly from solar panels, but their payments will help finance solar facilities that place electricity onto the grid. So far, the Commission has approved six projects across Maryland and we anticipate that more will be approved within the next few years. Statewide, the General Assembly authorized bout 200 MWs to be built under the pilot program which could power about 40,000 households.

As with any new program, some implementation challenges are to be expected as the program gets off the ground. However, we are optimistic that Maryland’s Community Solar Pilot Program will be a success, enabling more and more customers are able to access solar energy.

If you would like more information about the program’s background, we have been tracking the Maryland’s Community Solar Pilot Program since its inception and the development of the program regulations back in April of 2016 (check out our previous post here). We also did a video about Community Solar in the mid-Atlantic region last Spring.

If you have questions or would like more information about community solar projects or other regulatory issues, contact Eric Wallace or any of our mid-Atlantic energy lawyers.

SCC Sets Procedural Schedule for Dominion Grid Application

On July 24, 2018, Dominion Energy Virginia (“Dominion”) filed a Grid Transformation Plan with the Virginia State Corporation Commission (“Commission” or “SCC”). The SCC has entered a procedural schedule for this case and set an evidentiary hearing for November 15, 2018.

Dominion’s grid plan proposes to invest approximately $816 million in projects designed “to enhance the reliability, resiliency and security of the electric distribution grid.” Dominion also states that the plan will “facilitate the integration of distributed energy resources, such as solar or battery storage, into the system.” Dominion proposes to make the $816 million in investments over a three-year period, between 2019 and 2021. In particular, the utility wants to install approximately 1.4 million smart meters throughout its service territory between 2019 and 2021. There is more about the request here.

The filing also outlines the utility’s longer-term grid transformation priorities. Over 10 years, Dominion proposes to invest over $3.1 billion in grid transformation investments. These investments would include additional smart meters and other “advanced metering infrastructure” as well as reliability improvements and “grid hardening” projects. Dominion’s plan includes proposals to replace certain aging distribution facilities and increase the company’s physical and cyber security capabilities.

The application is filed pursuant to recently enacted legislation, Senate Bill 966, passed by the General Assembly and signed by Governor Northam earlier this year. Dominion’s petition requests the SCC to find that the plan is “reasonable and prudent.” The legislation provides that “grid transformation projects” are “in the public interest.” However, the law does not require the Commission to approve any of the proposed investments.

Dominion does not request cost recovery in its filing or explain whether the spending plan would result in rate increases for customers. This case has been docketed as Case Number PUR-2018-00100. Interested parties have until September 11, 2018, to intervene in this case.

If you want to know more about how this filing may affect energy markets in Virginia or have a legal issue in the energy field, please contact any of our renewable energy lawyers.

Panelist Reisinger and Solar Energy in Virginia

Will Reisinger and other panelists for the rginia Renewable Energy Alliance LEAD conferenceWill Reisinger was a panelist at the Virginia Renewable Energy Alliance’s Leadership in Energy Advancement and Development conference on April 26 at the McGuireWoods law firm in Richmond. The panel discussed the status of Virginia’s energy market and recent legislation intended to encourage solar energy development. Will highlighted some of the opportunities for expanded renewable energy investments in Virginia, as well as several remaining legal and regulatory obstacles.

If you would like to know more about the state of solar energy in Virginia or the legislative environment, contact Will or any of our GreeneHurlocker energy lawyers.

More Appalachian Power Customers Choosing Solar Energy

An article in yesterday’s News & Advance profiled a Lynchburg business that has invested over half a million dollars to produce solar energy at its headquarters. BMS Direct, a company that processes invoices and billing statements, now has over 900 solar panels on the roof of its 80,000-square-foot facility in Lynchburg. The solar panels now supply about half of the company’s electric needs, and the resulting energy savings are expected to pay for the cost of the system in six years.

Several factors, including declining solar panel prices and federal investment tax credits, make it a great time to invest in solar energy. According to the Solar Energy Industries Association (“SEIA”), solar has experienced an average annual growth rate of 68%, while installed solar prices have dropped 55% over the last five years. The installed cost of a solar installation is now between $2.30 per watt and $2.75 per watt for residential systems and $1.40 per watt and $2.20 per watt for commercial systems. Federal law currently authorizes a 30% tax credit for residential and commercial solar systems, although this percentage is scheduled to decline beginning in 2020.

Virginia law allows all customers to generate their own renewable energy on site by “net metering.” Electric utilities in Virginia are required to offer net metering programs, which allow residential customers and businesses like BMS Direct to install renewable energy facilities on their property. Net metering customers only have to pay their utility for their electricity usage that is in excess of what they generate on site. Appalachian Power (“APCo”) says that about 750 of its customers participate in the net metering program.

Moreover, Virginia customers are also currently permitted to purchase 100% renewable energy, including solar, from non-utility companies. Under Virginia law, most customers are allowed to purchase renewable generation from third-party suppliers only if their incumbent electric utility does not have an approved tariff for 100% renewable energy. See Va. Code Section 56-577(A)(5). However, no Virginia utility currently offers a 100% renewable energy option for its customers. As we have written about here, the Virginia State Corporation Commission (“SCC”) recently rejected a renewable energy tariff proposal by APCo that, if approved, would have prevented its customers from purchasing solar energy from third-party suppliers.

The SCC is also currently considering a similar renewable tariff application filed by Dominion Energy Virginia (“Dominion”) in SCC Case No.PUR-2017-00060. If approved, Dominion’s tariff would limit clean energy choices for its large customers, and potentially other classes of customers in the future.

If you want to learn more about the regulations governing solar installations, and whether developing a solar energy project may make sense for you or your business, please contact one of our renewable energy lawyers or regulatory attorneys.

Community Solar Growing in Mid-Atlantic

Eric Wallace explains what’s driving the increase in interest and use for community solar energy generating facilities in mid-Atlantic jurisdictions such as Maryland and the District of Columbia. For more information about community solar projects and regulation, contact Eric or any of our mid-Atlantic energy lawyers.

Governor McAuliffe Conducts Clean Energy Signing Ceremony

Governor McAuliffe singing clean energy billsGreeneHurlocker attorneys Eric Hurlocker and Will Reisinger were among the invited guests attending the clean energy bill signing ceremony at the Governor’s mansion this morning. Governor McAuliffe signed eleven pieces of legislation passed by the 2017 General Assembly that will help promote further development of renewable energy in Virginia. The Governor noted that “Virginia is moving in the right direction, especially with the recent announcement of record growth in our solar industry, but there is still work to do.” The Governor also added that while there were only 17 MW of installed solar energy in Virginia at the beginning of 2014, the Commonwealth can now boast of over 1500 MW of solar generation that is either installed or under development today.

Among the legislation signed today was Senate Bill 1393 (Wagner), a community solar bill that will allow customers of Appalachian Power and Dominion to purchase 100% solar energy from new solar facilities located in Virginia. Customers will be permitted to voluntarily “subscribe” to a solar energy rate schedule. Currently, neither utility offers customers an option to purchase 100% solar energy.

Senate Bill 1395 (Wagner), also signed today, will expand the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality’s (“DEQ”) “permit-by-rule” (“PBR”) process to include larger renewable energy facilities. The PBR can often reduce the time and expense necessary to receive the state approvals required to begin construction and operation of a solar or wind facility. Senate Bill 1395 increases the facility size threshold, from 100 MW to 150 MW, which will allow more facilities to be permitted with fewer regulatory burdens from the state. Facilities receiving a PBR are exempted from State Corporation Commission review, so long as the project costs are not recovered from a utility’s ratepayers.

The Governor also signed House Bill 2390 (Kilgore), which will allow non-profit higher education institutions in Appalachian Power’s service territory to purchase 100% renewable energy from non-utility sellers. This bill is intended to address some of the economic challenges faced by colleges who wish to use renewable energy. House Bill 2390, by allowing non-profit colleges to purchase energy from third-party sellers, will permit these institutions to take advantage of federal tax benefits of renewable energy investments.

Please contact one of our renewable energy lawyers or regulatory attorneys should you have questions about these energy bills.

Virginia to Get $500,000 for Clean Energy Programs

map of Virginia's energy resourcesVirginia was selected to receive a $500,000 grant through the U.S. Department of Energy which will support clean energy programs across the Commonwealth and could help create over 700 jobs. The Virginia Department of Mines, Minerals and Energy will manage the grant which will provide low-cost financing for private sector clean energy investments through Property Assessed Clean Energy (“PACE”) programs. PACE programs, which are currently used in 16 states and Washington, D.C., serve as a mechanism for financing energy efficiency and renewable energy improvements on private property. The programs allow local and state governments to fund the up-front cost of energy improvements on commercial and residential properties, which are paid back over time by the property owners. Localities coordinate with private lenders who are repaid when the localities collect PACE loan payments from the property owners in the form of special property assessments added to the property owner’s tax bill. For more information on PACE programs or other solar project financing and development matters, please contact Eric Hurlocker or Blair Powell at GreeneHurlocker.