Virginia commission advances solar in coalfield region


Chelsea Barnes, Appalachian Voices New Economy Program Manager,, 276-207-9636

Southwest Virginia’s coal-bearing region is significantly closer to reaping the benefits of rooftop solar on businesses, nonprofits, schools and other government buildings. The Virginia State Corporation Commission on Friday issued an order updating guidelines for its renewable energy pilot program for third-party power purchase agreements (PPAs). The order comes in response to legislative changes in April allowing independent solar provides to offer PPAs for the first time to most commercial-scale customers of Old Dominion Power and Appalachian Power Co., which serve different areas of Southwest Virginia.

“The lack of programs allowing third-party financing for solar projects has long prevented Southwest Virginia from garnering the economic benefits of this rapidly growing industry. This order will facilitate the installation of at least six solar projects on schools and local governments in the coalfield region that had been stalled to finally move forward,” said Chelsea Barnes, New Economy Program Manager for Appalachian Voices.

The commission’s order allows PPAs to be used immediately on July 1, the effective date of the new law, rather than waiting for a prolonged rulemaking proceeding. With this decision, projects facilitated by the Solar Workgroup of Southwest Virginia and its partners can move forward, including two projects in the Town of Pennington Gap — one on the town hall building and another on the Pennington Gap Community Center and Lee Theater. Additionally, four schools in Wise County will be able to move forward on installation, including Central High School, which will save the school $1.3 million over the life of the project.

The commission’s order also increases the renewable generation caps available for this program and increases the size of the renewable generation facilities eligible for the program.

“Especially given the current economic crisis facing our local governments, allowing these solar projects to move forward so that they can begin saving money on their electricity bills as soon as possible is a gamechanger,” said Barnes. “These changes mark a significant milestone in the work of the Solar Workgroup of Southwest Virginia, which has been advocating for access to PPAs for years.”

Under legislation signed into law in April, PPAs are now available to customers of Old Dominion Power for the first time. The utility serves 30,000 customers in Southwest Virginia. The law also expands coverage for customers of Appalachian Power, which previously had been very limited. Now, solar installations developed through the PPA program for customers of all three investor-owned utilities in Virginia, including Dominion Energy, can be between 50 kilowatts and 3 megawatts. Nonprofits and low-income customers are not subject to the size minimum.