Chelsea Barnes, New Economy Program Manager
NORTON, VA. – Several school boards and counties in Southwest Virginia are calling on local leaders and Appalachian Power Company to allow fair access to solar energy for their public facilities in the utility’s Southwest Virginia territory.
The Wise County and Tazewell County school boards voted unanimously this week to pass resolutions calling for fair financial mechanisms that would enable them to install solar at their schools, which would ultimately save the school systems thousands of dollars. Additionally, Town of Blacksburg, Carroll County Public School Board, Carroll County, and Pulaski County officials have sent letters also calling for equal access to solar.
“Over the past couple of weeks, we’ve had several citizens reach out to us and ask us to support a resolution in support of equal access to solar,” said Dr. Christopher Stacy, Tazewell County Public Schools Superintendent.
“All that we are simply asking is that if we make the decision to perhaps move in that direction, that we can do so in the most positive environment possible,” said Greg Mullins, Superintendent of Wise County Public Schools.
Schools across the region have pursued solar projects in recent years, including Dickenson and Wise counties, which both participated in a group purchase program conducted by the Solar Workgroup of Southwest Virginia. However, Appalachian Power currently limits net metering for local governments across its entire service territory to 3 megawatts total, and blocks power purchase agreement (PPA) financing for these same customers. Net metering allows a customer to send electricity from their solar panels onto the grid, offsetting their electric bill. Under a PPA, a third-party developer owns, operates and maintains a solar system on behalf of a customer. These programs are crucial tools for financing solar and reducing the up-front cost of a new installation, which can be a barrier for customers, particularly tax-exempt and public entities.
The resolutions and letters come as a steering committee of the Appalachian Power Virginia Municipal League and Virginia Association of Counties begins negotiations with APCo to update the rates and services provided to local government or “public authority” entities in Southwest Virginia. Contract negotiations are expected to continue over the next few months.
Virginia Senator John Edwards (D-Roanoke) also weighed in in a recent editorial, encouraging the utility and the steering committee to negotiate new contracts that reflect the changes in the state law so “our local governments can take full advantage of the benefits and lower costs of renewable energy to our communities and taxpayers.”
“We’re excited to see many of our public schools express interest in going solar. Net metering and PPAs are important tools to leverage millions of dollars of savings for Virginia schools. The solar industry is proud to be partners in helping schools save taxpayer dollars that can be reinvested into the school community,” said Rachel Smucker, Virginia Policy and Development Manager for MDV-SEIA, whose solar industry members have been attempting to develop projects throughout Southwest Virginia.
“Schools and local governments in other parts of the state are taking advantage of solar energy to save taxpayer money. These tools can be of significant value to Southwest Virginia, which has powered our state and country for more than 100 years and is now struggling as we undergo an energy transition,” said Austin Counts, New Economy Field Coordinator for Appalachian Voices, which helped inform the school and government entities about the issue.
Appalachian Voices is a leading nonprofit advocate for a healthy environment and just economy in the Appalachian region, and a driving force in America’s shift from fossil fuels to a clean energy future.