2017 was an electrifying year for Virginia’s renewable energy economy. From new legislation expanding renewable energy development, to the installation of more than 328MW of new solar capacity, to that fact that the solar industry now employs more people than coal in the Commonwealth, Virginia is in the midst of a solar gold rush. VA-REA members continued to lead Virginia’s renewable energy economic activity, developing more than 318 MW of new solar capacity across the Commonwealth in 2017. The future of Virginia’s solar market continues to show signs of growth, with a total of 6.5 GW of solar in the PJM que for Virginia.
The Virginia Renewable Energy Alliance (VA-REA) also continued to grow in 2017, as the organization built on its leadership in advancing Virginia’s renewable energy economy through industry partnerships, networking, and public educational events. This blog is a thumbnail of the full 2017 Development Report.
2017 LEAD Conferences
VA-REA’s 2017 public education strategy set out to discern the barriers and opportunities faced by Virginia’s renewable energy economy throughout three Leadership in Energy Advancement and Development (LEAD) conferences.
Cumulatively impacting more than 175 professionals and enthusiasts, each LEAD event served as a platform to advance VA-REA’s mission to research and support best industry practices, serve as an authority and resource through public education, and foster coordination and partnerships through networking opportunities.
LEAD #1 – Addressing Virginia’s Energy Gap with Renewables (February 2017)
LEAD #2 – Assessing New Business Models for Renewable Energy (April 2017)
LEAD #3 – Advancing Renewable Energy in Higher Education (September 2017)
Virginia Renewable Energy Leadership Award
VA-REA announced its inaugural Virginia Renewable Energy Leadership Award ceremony, in conjunction with the LEAD event, "Renewable Energy in Higher Education," in Newport News at the Christopher Newport University on September 12, 2017.
The inaugural Virginia Renewable Energy Leadership Award recognized Jim Pierobon, whose vision led to funding of the Southeast Energy News (SEEN), where he is a principle reporter. SEEN provides original investigative journalism and a daily news digest keeping Virginia stakeholders, industry, policymakers, and citizens informed of the important changes taking place in the region in advancing renewable energy.
Virginia Solar Energy Development
The Virginia solar industry grew at an unprecedented rate in 2017, across all market sectors. Increased demand for renewable energy from corporate and individual consumers combined with consistent drops in equipment costs drove a 187% increase in installed solar capacity in Virginia from 2016.
Supporting 3,200 jobs, Virginia’s 506MW of installed solar is now an important source of new high-paying jobs. Virginia’s solar industry continues to create numerous opportunities for a skilled labor force to transition the Commonwealth to a clean energy economy. What’s more, a new study by the Solar Foundation found that Virginia’s solar industry could employ more than 50,000 Virginians by 2023.
VA-REA members continue to lead the promising renewable energy market in Virginia. Out of more than 500 MW (AC) of solar energy currently installed in Virginia, 318 of those Megawatts were developed in 2017 by VA-REA members alone. Ninety-seven percent of the growth by VA-REA members came from utility scale development, outpacing the national trend of 53%. VA-REA members also contributed more than 7 MW of residential and commercial scale solar development in 2017.
VA-REA members expect a slower pace of growth in 2018, with 173 MW of new solar capacity projected. Overall, 376 MW of new solar development is projected in Virginia in 2018.
The Virginia Solar Energy Development Authority maintains a full list of known solar installations in Virginia that can be found here.
 Based on partial survey results from VA-REA and DMME statistics as of 10-30-17
Wind Energy Development
Wind energy development in Virginia continues to face stiff challenges. Although several private development firms have plans to develop large-scale projects across the state, there are currently no operational wind farms in Virginia.
Despite slow development of wind energy relative to neighboring states, Virginia’s investor owned utilities and utility co-operatives showed increased interest in wind development in 2017.
In July, Dominion Energy announced plans to build a 12MW offshore wind farm 27 miles off the coast of Virginia Beach in a strategic partnership with Orsted Energy of Denmark. Dubbed the Coastal Virginia Offshore Wind Initiative, Dominion’s wind farm is the first phase of a plan that could bring more than 2,000 megawatts of wind generated electricity to its Virginia and North Carolina customers.
In their most recent Integrated Resource Plan, Virginia’s other investor owned utility, Appalachian Power Company, suggests an interest in wind as a low-cost renewable resource. The company plans to build 1,350 MW of wind energy by 2031.
Taking a different approach to bringing wind energy to Virginia, Old Dominion Electric Cooperative buys the output of three wind farms in Maryland and Pennsylvania generating more than 430MW of renewable energy, and sells the renewable energy credits (RECs) generated by these projects to participating customers.
To support further development of offshore wind energy in the Commonwealth, the Virginia Offshore Wind Development Authority was created as a result of 2010 legislation from the Virginia General Assembly. Housed at VA-REA member James Madison University, the Authority’s mission is to facilitate, coordinate, and support development of the offshore wind energy industry, offshore wind energy projects, and supply chain vendors.
Numerous new state and international laws significantly affecting renewable energy development in Virginia have been enacted or are pending. Below, we provide insight into the implications of four such laws.
International Trade Commission Solar Trade Case:
The two petitioners in the case, Suniva and SolarWorld, argue that tariffs on international solar panels are needed to revive the domestic manufacturing industry, which has been flattened by cheap imports from Asia.The proposed tariff seeks a rate of up to 35% on imported solar panels, that would be incrementally reduced over a four-year span. On September 22, 2017, the U.S. ITC voted unanimously (4-0) to find significant injury in Suniva/SolarWorld’s section 201 petition. The ITC’s findings and recommendations will be sent to President Trump, who has the authority to accept, modify, or reject the proposed tariffs.
Community Solar program for Dominion Energy and Appalachian Power Company:
Senate Bill 1393 (2017), patroned by Senators Frank Wagner and Jennifer Wexton, enables each incumbent electric utility to buy power from eligible third-party power providers and offer the renewable energy to customers at a blended rate. The program is capped at 10MW in Appalachian Power Company’s service territory. The program is capped at 40MW in Dominion Energy’s service territory. Rates have not yet been set for either utilities’ community solar program. Dominion Energy plans to file an application with the State Corporation Commission in early 2018. Learn more about the Dominion Energy community solar program.
Small Agricultural Generators:
House Bill 2303 (2017), patroned by Delegate Randall Minchew, enables farmers in Virginia electric co-operatives to devote up to a quarter of their acreage to solar energy production and to produce up to 1.5 MW or 150% of their own electricity demand.Farmers must sell all solar-generated electricity back to the utility at its avoided cost of electricity and capacity and buy all of their electricity from the utility at the retail rate. The bill replaces and eliminates agricultural net metering in territory served by electric co-operatives beginning in 2019 but allows for existing agricultural net metering customers to be grandfathered. The bill does not change agricultural net metering in Dominion Energy or Appalachian Power Company service territory.
Permit By Rule:
Senate Bill 1395 (2017), patroned by Senators Frank Wagner and Montgomery Mason, increases the allowed capacity of small renewable energy generators that are eligible for expedited permitting from the State Corporation Commission from 100MW to 150MW. Eligible projects are exempt from a certificate of public convenience and necessity for the construction or operation of the project.
Our member GreeneHurlocker maintains a more inclusive list of notable clean energy bills that passed the 2017 Virginia General Assembly that can be viewed here.
2018 LEAD Series
VA-REA anticipates a robust year in 2018, building on our innovative capacity and leadership role to foster industry partnerships and provide industry networking and public education events. As the central piece of our strategic outreach plan, we will offer the following Leadership in Energy Advancement and Development (LEAD) conferences in 2018:
The Legal and Regulatory Parameters for Renewables in Virginia
The Open Market Path to Renewables in Virginia
2018 Annual Networking Event and Members Meeting
We hope you continue to grow Virginia’s renewable energy market with us in 2018 and beyond. If you are not currently a member of the Alliance, consider joining us to leverage your exposure to Virginia’s renewable energy economy!