Virginia has been leapfrogged yet again – this time by South Carolina. It went from 36th in annual solar photovoltaic installations in the United States in 2015 to 9th in the second quarter of 2016 alone. In the same Solar Energy Industries Association report, Virginia ranked 34th of the 40 states included, and actually dropped from 31st in 2015 to its present position. Virginia is now ahead of the District of Columbia, Idaho, Alabama, Illinois, Montana and Arkansas.
When I see solar success stories about other states, the main themes I read about are cooperation among the stakeholders – state and local governments, public utilities and the solar industry – as well as highly engaged business sector. We need to catch up in Virginia.
Here are a few examples of how other states are getting ahead and expanding solar:
South Carolina – Clarendon County will be home to two separate solar farms, which promise new jobs, tax revenue and clean power for the local area. The first of the two 72 megawatt (MW) solar farms should be up and running by the end of 2018. According to an article in the Post and Courier, South Carolina’s rapid growth in solar “…has been attributed to the Distributed Energy Resource Program Act, which was passed unanimously by the Legislature in 2014. The act allows residential and commercial consumers to lease solar systems, electric utility companies to get power from independent renewable installations and net-metering rates to be updated.”
Illinois – The state recently set a legislative precedent in the Midwest by passing its Future Energy Jobs Bill (SB 2814), which sets the state on a path to 25 percent renewables by 2025, including potentially thousands of megawatts of new solar. This is a huge step given that Illinois currently has only 66 MW of installed solar and ranks 27th nationally for total capacity (still higher than Virginia). The RPS update not only establishes initiatives for new community solar and distributed generation, but it also includes low-income solar programs. Utility-scale projects will make up an additional 40 percent of the mandate, brownfield solar another 2 percent and other PV resources will make up the remaining 8 percent.
It’s time for Virginia legislators to make changes here in the Commonwealth. More solar in our energy mix means more opportunities for both business and individuals alike, as well as more jobs, lower rates for customers and a more attractive business climate for the Commonwealth.