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8/13/18  3:34 pm
Commenter: Caroline Heilbrun, Yale University

Grid Modernization within the Utility-Owned System
 

My name is Caroline Heilbrun, and I am from Fairfax Station, Virginia. I believe that Virginia can still work within the system of utility ownership of solar and storage to modernize the grid.

I understand that Dominion, Virginia’s biggest investor-owned utility, has led the charge for deployment of renewables and storage in large part because so many are utility-scale and utility-owned. Dominion is wary of the impacts of customer ownership on the grid (e.g. too much midday backfeed) and revenue loss. Third party owned solar and net metering are thus greatly restricted in the state. I recognize that Dominion leverages the best resources and economies of scale to modernize the grid. However, there are ways they can meet customer demand for renewables while still meeting grid modernization initiatives and maintaining control of the system, so that grid operators can generate and dispatch electricity when the grid needs it.

  1. The Virginia Energy Plan should urge the SCC to establish a pilot program for community or “shared” solar. Dominion can own a solar array connected to a weak spot on the distribution system, perhaps co-located with batteries, and allow customers who otherwise can not access solar (live in multifamily units or homes with shady roofs, or are prohibited by restrictive residential solar policy) to purchase a slice of the array’s output and get a credit on their utility bill.
  2. Or, the Virginia Energy Plan could encourage the SCC to establish a utility-owned residential battery program to promote storage and grid stability, such as Green Mountain Power’s in Vermont. GMP has deployed, owns, and controls 2,000 residential Tesla PowerWalls. The behind the meter distributed systems (which needn’t even be batteries- they could be pre-existing electric water heaters) provide finer tuning of the system, and provide the individual customers with resiliency benefits. With a residential battery, customers have guaranteed electricity during power outages, and peak electricity consumption in the evening is shaved, saving money on bills. At scale, this could reduce the need to build new peaker plants, saving costs on transmission and capacity. Since storage is more cost-effective when they store energy from solar arrays, Dominion can either expand their Green Roofs program, where they pay customers to host utility-owned panels on their house, allow for customer-owned rooftop solar while still owning behind-the-meter storage assets, or just have customers store energy from the grid in their batteries or electric water heaters as needed without a rooftop solar array.