About

Virginia lags behind most other states in developing clean energy: wind, solar, and energy efficiency. We are missing out on huge opportunities for jobs and economic development, and for a cleaner environment. Besides, it’s embarrassing. So here’s the deal: I’ll explain the problems, and the rest of you go fix them.

Just kidding. Let’s work on this together.

–I.M.

27 thoughts on “About

  1. Ivy:
    Thanks for your wonderful, beautifully written blog. Do you have information concerning Dominion Resource’s plan to build a natural gas liquifying and exporting facility at Cove Point? I understand that the Montgomery County Council voted to oppose the plan, but I don’t think that will stop Dominion.

    • Rose, the Sierra Club may be your best bet for information on the fight against Dominion’s efforts to repurpose its Cove Point facility for the export of LNG. I will send you contact information for the chair of the Maryland Sierra Club.

  2. Ivy,
    Thanks for this very informative blog.
    Do you have information regarding the establishment of solar gardens in Virginia? Is it possible for private citizens to join together and finance the installation of a solar garden on private land and then sell the power to Dominion–something similar to the solar garden established in Harvard, MA?

    • Dave, I think you could do it, but you’d lose money. The utility would only have to pay you its avoided cost, essentially the wholesale cost of ordinary grid power, which runs about 4.5 cents/kWh. Dominion does have its “solar purchase program” to buy solar power at 15 cents for sale to its voluntary Green Poer Program customers, but I don’t think your solar garden co-op would qualify since the program is intended as an alternative to net metering; in any case the income would only be guaranteed for a few years. But I would love to see a solar garden like you propose and would sign up to buy the power myself!

  3. Ivy
    Here is something that can help promote solar in VA, it is PACE financing. Communities need to work with local municipalities to get this implemented

    Pace Financing
    Property Assessed Clean Energy(PACE): “PACE is a means of financing energy efficiency upgrades or renewable energy installations for buildings. Examples of upgrades range from adding more attic insulation to installing rooftop solar panels. In areas with PACE legislation in place municipal governments offer a specific bond to investors and then turn around and loan the money to consumers and businesses to put towards an energy retrofit. The loans are repaid over the assigned term (typically 15 or 20 years) via an annual assessment on their property tax bill. PACE bonds can be issued by municipal financing districts or finance companies and the proceeds can be used to retrofit both commercial and residential properties. One of the most notable characteristics of PACE programs is that the loan is attached to the property rather than an individual.”
    “PACE programs help home and business owners pay for the upfront costs of green initiatives, such as solar panels, which the property owner then pays back by increasing property taxes by a set rate over about 20 years. This allows property owners to begin saving on energy costs while they are paying for their solar panels. This usually means that property owners have net gains even with increased property tax.”
    Enabling Legislation: An Act to amend the Code of Virginia by adding a section numbered 15.2-958.3, relating to clean energy financing programs. [S 1212]
    Approved March 30, 2009 http://leg1.state.va.us/cgi-bin/legp504.exe?091+ful+CHAP0773

    Local Economic Development
    • Most funding is spent locally
    • Creating economic development
    • Impetus for making Shenandoah County a greener county and laying the seeds for future growth in this area
    • Using the natural resources to create necessities of life, similar to farming.
    • This county is well placed for a center of sustainable energy; its proximity to I-81, JMU, and Washington D.C., unused existing manufacturing space and a very skilled workforce with a good work ethic.

    PACE programs have been set up throughout the country and guidelines and assistance is easily available.

    Pace Financing (cont)
    Involuntary Subordination: “Several problems have been raised regarding PACE. Foremost amongst the problems is the issue of involuntary subordination. Property taxes are superior to all other obligations, including mortgages. In case of default, taxes are paid before other creditors. Since the PACE loan is made after a mortgage is taken out, this in effect acts as an involuntary subordination of the lender’s security. While this point is widely disputed, for this reason Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA) have issued guidance that stopped residential PACE finance programs in most locations. Commercial PACE is, however, unaffected. Changes to make PACE loans secondary to mortgage loans have made residential PACE financing available in thirteen states.” (This is has been resolved, see below)
    Rulemaking Process: “As required by a preliminary injunction issued by the Northern District Court of California, the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA) has sent to the Federal Register for publication and public comment a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPR) concerning certain state and local energy retrofit financing arrangements also known as Property Assessed Clean Energy or PACE. The US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit has stayed any obligation required by the preliminary injunction for FHFA to publish a final rule. http://www.fhfa.gov/webfiles/24017/PACE61512.pdf
    The rulemaking process has been completed and mortgages will be a senior lien, while PACE will become a junior lien. As concerns a short sale, property assessments cannot be dismissed in a short sale.
    Revolving loan programs administered by state energy offices with Federal funds could employ mechanisms like PACE; funds from the 2009 Recovery Act served such a purpose. Federal credit support could reduce interest rates for municipal bonds by reducing risk to lenders, making the program more cost-effective for property owners. http://www.ase.org/resources/property-assessed-clean-energy-financing-pace.
    Respectfully Submitted Ed Kelly M. S. Principal Shenandoah Energy Services LLC

  4. from the Free Nelson facebook post 9-16-2015 at 1:38AM

    This photo is of the Dutch Creek area in our beloved Nelson County. If you read the August report of Dominion to FERC, you saw Dominion representatives met with a group of Nelsonians in the Dutch Creek area, where one possible route for the proposed Atlantic Coast Pipeline could be situated.

    Free Nelson was interested to learn what information that meeting yielded. Board of Supervisor member, Connie Brennan, told us the following: “Dominion would chop off the top of the ridge, to create a level 125-foot area; dig the trench and place the pipeline and bury it; then ‘rebuild’ the ridge back to its original configuration. They do not have to replant the 25 feet on either side of the permanently-cleared easement unless the property owner negotiates this, but will let it go back to nature ‘naturally’.”

    We hope you’re getting the picture. If you extend this “vision” all through our beautiful county, Dominion proposes to remove mountaintops, trench and bury the pipeline and then “rebuild” the mountaintops. One good gullywasher and those rebuilt mountaintops would become part of the debris flow.
    Likely Dominion would claim it will mitigate damages.

    “Rebuilt” mountaintops and “silencers” on compressor stations? Pipe dreams.

    Two of us are in the fracking fields of West Virginia right now, witnessing the horror wrought by corporate greed. The tragedy here overwhelms. There is no “mitigation” for the people of West Virginia. Their loss is permanent. Their water is ruined. The smell of gas hangs heavy in the air everywhere we go. There is no place to go in this area of West Virginia to escape the presence of the pipelines. Much of their reality could be our own.

    How does one go about mitigating the rape of the land? How might Dominion mitigate the loss of all we hold sacred? What dollar amount would make you feel better about the proposed permanent desecration of our land and way of life? #NoPipelineAnywhere #Renewables #NelsonStrong

    ~Marion Kanour, Free Nelson

  5. Wonderful blog, a huge relief to discover that there actually are intelligent, thoughtful people living in the USA. All we see in the news from your country is the spectacle of Donald Trump and the other Republican ‘Hopefuls’ making fools of themselves in what looks like Reality TV shows, plus endless comments from right-wing screwballs lambasting Obama for being ‘Liberal’ and ‘Anti American’.
    Your thoughtful, brave stance on Fracking needs a wider audience. I sincerely hope you succeed in your aims, for the sake of us all.
    Best Wishes from the UK.
    Pete T.

  6. Peter
    Good news from the UK with the election of Jeremy Corbin to the leadership of the labor party, he could win the PM

  7. What state legislative action would do the most to promote solar in Virginia? I am planning to speak with VA legislators on Saturday and would like to know what legislation to ask them to support.

    • Laurie, thanks for the question. I am aware of several pro-solar bills in the works for the General Assembly session that starts next week, though some have not been filed yet. I will write a round-up of them as well as other energy-related bills once they are all filed. Unfortunately many of the proposals that would do the most for solar have no chance of passage. One bill I’m more optimistic about (and not just because I was on the drafting team) would remove many of the barriers I identified in my “Getting the policy right” post, especially size caps and the challenges to third-party ownership that currently hold back the market. The bill won’t do as much for solar as an RPS or state tax credits would, but the absence of subsidies and mandates gives it a better shot in the conservative committees that hear energy bills.

  8. Thanks, Ivy! We are hoping to put solar panels on our house this year, so I am just now getting interested in our state laws. I look forward to more of your analysis and will read you post carefully.

  9. Ivy & Laurie, While state tax credits sound good, they are a double edge sword for installers like us. Here is my thinking on this: there is a reason why company like Solar City (solar leasing companies) are not in VA, it is because of the lack of state tax credits. if a homeowner is faced with the choice of tens of thousands of dollars of debt or getting a solar system install for nothing and paying for the usage, it is pretty obvious what the choice would be. This can seriously hurt installers like us and others. It is hard enough to close a project as it is and we get about 1 in 4, given this very attractive alternative for homeowners, it would be near impossible

    • Joni, I don’t have a lot of knowledge about what large companies are buying (I’d like to know more), but the rap on Amazon in the past has been the lack of transparency in its clean energy claims. Google has been better. In the past a lot of companies bought cheap, unbundled RECs to enable their green claims without acheiveing much of actual value. Now they are making investments of their own in wind and solar, which is what we want to see and helps make the case they are serious. BTW, the writer of the article, Jim Pierobon, lives in Virginia and is friendly to the cause, so don’t hesitate to ping him with questions.

  10. Ivy, I was hoping I could tap your brain regarding what types of PPA / lease scenarios are currently legal (or passable) in the commonwealth to assist non-profits in going solar.

    • Joe, if you are in Dominion territory, a non-profit can use a 3d party power purchase agreement. In APCo territory, it’s trickier, because while Virginia law appears to allow PPAs, APCo contends they are not allowed. It is hard to get financing with that kind of uncertainty. Finally, if your utility is a coop or muni, you may be able to get their cooperation. For more information, see my 2015 policy summary (gee, I guess I’d better update that). And if you are not already part of the VA-SUN network, you will want to join so you can connect with developers and get all your questions answered.

  11. Dominion has a pilot program for PPA’s of 50 MW, when I last looked at it less than 1 MW had be used. For one project we were looking at an installment sale with a monthly payment to the investor.
    A passive investor id entitled to the 30% tax credit, which a N P can’t use

  12. Joe
    here is a new development on PPAs
    September 2, 2016 State Corporation Commission ruling could open the door for Virginia’s solar market

    A Virginia State Corporation Commission hearing examiner has turned aside a utility’s claims that customers in its area were forbidden from entering into contracts with third parties to provide solar energy for their homes.

    The ruling rejected Appalachian Power Company’s contention that financing structures known as “power purchase agreements” – or PPAs – were illegal in Virginia. A PPA is an agreement where, typically, a homeowner or other consumer contracts with a company to install solar panels through a payment or financing plan that reduces or eliminates the up-front costs.

    “This decision is an important win for solar rights in Virginia, which has continued to lag behind neighboring states on solar because of outdated policies and utility opposition like we saw from Appalachian Power in this case,” said Will Cleveland, staff attorney at the Southern Environmental Law Center. “The ruling confirms that Virginians have the right to use common sense financial tools to choose solar power without utilities acting as the middle men.”

    PPAs have been a contentious issue for state utilities as they fight to keep customers from generating their own power. But in 2013, the Virginia legislature set up provisions for a pilot program in Dominion Virginia Power’s service area that allowed PPAs. Prior to that, Dominion also rejected the notion of PPAs.

    Appalachian Power tried to argue that PPAs were narrowly allowed only under approved utility pilot programs like Dominion’s.

    SELC represented the Sierra Club, Chesapeake Climate Action Network and Appalachian Voices to challenge the utility’s restrictive stance. Solar industry organizations, consumer groups, and members of the public also weighed in to support solar financing opportunities and against the utility’s restrictive arguments. The hearing examiner agreed Appalachian Power’s interpretation was incorrect.

    If the full commission upholds the ruling this fall, it will further open Virginia markets to new solar businesses and jobs, and it will make solar power more accessible for state residents.

    Virginia has lagged behind regional states in the embrace of solar power. The Old Dominion ranks 32 among states for installed solar projects. North Carolina ranks third. North Carolina has nearly three times as many solar jobs as Virginia.

    As an example of the promise of PPAs, the pilot program from Dominion Power recently allowed six schools in the Albemarle County School District to install solar panels on their roofs, with students leading the charge.

    Read the decision here.

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