A solar installation on Powhatan Elementary. (Sun Tribe Solar)
State regulators have approved a $55.10 minimum bill for a new Dominion Energy shared solar program, which critics contend would be the highest such charge in the country and make the program too expensive to attract developers and customers.
The State Corporation Commission approved the minimum bill as part of an order released Thursday that also set bill credit rates and a mechanism for the company, Virginia’s largest utility, to recoup costs associated with allowing low-income customers to participate in the program, since they are exempt from the minimum bill. Community, or shared, solar programs involve multiple households agreeing jointly to purchase a portion of the electricity generated by a solar array. It’s useful for apartment dwellers or other settings in which rooftop panels aren’t feasible.
“The commission has established, pursuant to its delegated discretion under this statute, a minimum bill that reasonably includes costs the commission deems relevant to ensure subscribing customers pay a fair share of the generation, transmission, distribution and fixed costs of providing electric service,” the SCC judges wrote.
But a trio of state lawmakers — Sens. Emmett Hanger, R-Augusta, Scott Surovell, D-Fairfax, and Del. Rip Sullivan, D-Fairfax — said in a letter to the commission in April that the high minimum bill recommended by the SCC hearing examiner undermined the legislation passed in 2020 that created the program, which was intended to allow third-party groups to develop community solar facilities, sign up interested customers and sell the power to the utility, with a bill credit for participating customers for the power generated.
“We did not pass legislation to create a program that exists in name only,” the lawmakers wrote. “The minimum bill is required to help alleviate potential cost shifts associated with the shared solar program but should be implemented with an underlying assumption that the program needs to work. A competitive shared solar program is a new and exciting frontier for Virginia, and we recommend taking serious consideration of the input provided by industry and advocates with regards to what has proven successful in other markets.”
Dominion had argued that the high minimum bill was necessary to avoid burdening customers who choose not to participate, but as opponents and the SCC hearing examiner himself noted, the company failed to produce any evidence that quantified how much of a cost shift would be borne by nonparticipating customers.
“It is correct that the record does not include evidence that specifies exactly what cost shift would occur under Dominion’s proposed minimum bill, or any of the other proposed minimum bills, ” wrote SCC Hearing Examiner Mathias Roussy, who nevertheless recommended the $55 minimum charge. Dominion had pushed for an even higher minimum bill of $75.10.
Correction: This post has been updated to correct the characterization of Dominion Energy’s minimum bill request. The company sought a $75.10 minimum bill.
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