Solar United Neighbors (SUN) is a national non-profit organization dedicated to creating a clean, equitable, resilient energy system with distributed ‘rooftop’ solar as the cornerstone. Solar United Neighbors represents solar owners and prospective solar owners helping approximately 1,200 Virginians add solar to their homes and businesses. We work regionally through community ‘shared’ solar offerings to help people who would like solar but didn’t have an appropriate roof or property to do it on their own.
Distributed solar has wide support among all political demographics and is key to lowering cost of living, creating jobs and bringing affordable, competitive energy to Virginians.
The growth of distributed solar and storage is crucial to the success of the Governor’s 2022 Virginia Energy Plan. Distributed solar provides energy and power to a home, business or non-profit entity and lowers energy bills, creates well-paying jobs and gives Virginians the freedom to harness clean, homegrown energy. Being located mostly on the built environment, it protects viewsheds, open space and farmland and directs economic benefits back to local communities.
Solar energy is overwhelmingly popular across political parties, rural and urban areas, and other demographics. According to polling commissioned by Conservatives for Clean Energy in 2021, 61% of Virginians support more solar energy projects and 55% of Virginians favor more emphasis on solar power. Additionally, ninety percent of people including conservatives, moderates, and liberals view the ability to install solar on their property as a right.
Creates the Most Jobs Compared to any Other Scale of Solar
Distributed solar on residential homes is responsible for the most solar jobs in Virginia. Per megawatt (MW) of installed capacity, residential and small-scale solar creates six to eleven times as many jobs as utility-scale solar. According to a 2020 study by Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU), there are currently 4,700 jobs and $727 million in economic impact provided by the distributed solar industry in Virginia. This study also investigates the impact of adding 2,500 MW of distributed solar to the state, which would add a total of 47,100 jobs and $7.1 billion in economic impact. Distributed solar creates a range of well-paying jobs that accrue to local communities.
Saves on Rising Energy Costs
Solar United Neighbors has estimated that annual solar savings on electric bills of the more than 20,000 homes with rooftop solar in Virginia is more than $13 million per year. In the face of rising energy costs, solar enables economical and predictable energy costs for businesses, homeowners and government entities. Here are a few school examples of how solar saves taxpayers money. Arlington Public Schools has saved $100,000 per year at one solar-powered school and with the addition of 5 more solar-powered schools the district will save $4 million over 25 years. Middlesex County Public Schools will save $4.74 million over 25 years. Twelve schools in Wise and Lee counties are adding solar power with expected savings of $11.5 million over 20 years. Ten recent local high school graduates were employed at $17/hour to help with these solar installations this summer.
In addition to directly lowering energy bills, distributed solar lowers energy system costs for everyone by reducing wear and tear on the grid and the need for expensive ‘peak’ power plants. By producing power when and where it’s needed most distributed solar can save all utility customers from bearing the cost of building additional power plants or transmission infrastructure. A multi-year study found that small-scale solar in New England produced energy system benefits of $1.1 billion from 2014-19. Distributed solar is key to keeping Virginia’s energy costs low to attract more investment to the Commonwealth.
Enables Energy Choice and Freedom
Virginians do not have a choice in their electricity provider due to Virginia’s monopoly utility system. However, distributed solar enables a more competitive free-market option for energy. It allows Virginians to invest their own money to benefit from locally-produced energy while depending less on government sanctioned monopolies. Community solar is an important type of distributed solar and a tool to expand access to distributed, local solar to all Virginians who may not have the property or upfront money to invest in solar. Many Virginians do not have access to distributed, local solar energy due to factors such as: lacking access to credit or interest in taking out a loan, having a roof not suitable for solar, or being a renter (33.3% of households ). With the right framework in place,Virginians across all utility territories need accessible community solar that ensures lower electric bills without high fees and unreasonable minimum bills. Community solar programs should also ensure low-income ratepayer access; one option for this is a carveout, like the 30% low-income carveout in the Dominion Energy shared solar program.
Builds Resilient, Reliable Energy Into Local Communities
Solar coupled with on-site battery storage is one of the most reliable and effective strategies to keep the lights on at home or power critical community infrastructure in an outage. Additionally, utilities across the country are paying customers with energy storage to discharge their storage systems at peak times because of the high value of these services to the grid. Electric vehicles (EVs) provide another opportunity to access battery storage systems that can provide electricity in an outage or to the grid at peak times. Soon most EVs and EV chargers will provide these options. For example, electric school buses can provide back-up power in an outage to schools and income for the school by providing power at peak times. In a recent report, Advanced Energy Economy calculates that each $1 invested into electric school buses stimulates $2.6 in private investment.
More Community Solar Options
Virginia needs shared solar policy updates to expand the market and increase access for all Virginians. The Commonwealth should establish a permanent shared solar market with a 5,000MW cap to provide room for program growth. Shared solar programs need a set minimum bill not to exceed $25 to ensure projects pay their fair share for grid access and that the program is affordable. To further support access, shared solar programs should maintain low-income carve-outs to ensure equitable access to clean energy within the state. Shared solar systems should be incentivized on building rooftops and parking lots in the existing built environment and integrated into farms as agri-voltaics to reduce development of shared solar on green spaces.
Lift Arbitrary Caps on Net Metering and Expand Third Party Ownership Models
Net metering provides fair compensation for owners of distributed solar systems. State legislation to expand arbitrary net metering caps and to allow power purchase agreements (PPAs) for solar energy systems has helped expand the solar market with tens of millions invested in new solar systems, especially solar on schools. Virginia should consider a continued expansion of the net metering cap and expand access to PPA’s to further expand this market and bring more local clean energy, lower energy bills, and local jobs across the Commonwealth. Aggregate net metering helps farmers and others with multiple properties share solar credits across electric bills for nearby properties. Currently, Dominion Energy Electric Cooperatives and other utilities add fees and red tape that makes aggregate net metering harder to access. Eliminating additional fees would make aggregate net metering more accessible and support our farmers in generating more local, solar power.
Virginia can foster an environment that will catalyze more free-market, local energy options like distributed solar and storage by streamlining local permitting and utility interconnection processes. Ensuring that local jurisdictions have streamlined, reliable permitting and quick interconnection processes will ensure that these regulatory hurdles do not unnecessarily slow down or block new systems from being installed and connected to the grid. SolarAPP+ is permitting software developed by the National Renewable Energy Laboratories (NREL) that is provided for free to local jurisdictions to help streamline and improve permitting.
The Commonwealth should work with problematic jurisdictions like Prince William County that have slow, inefficient residential solar permitting processes. Prince William County is widely considered the worst permitting jurisdiction for residential solar in Virginia. Local and national companies refuse to work in the County due to high fees, delays, and red tape. As a result, solar customers in Prince William have less choice in contractors and pay a premium, as the few companies still working in the County have to pass on the high cost of permitting and inefficient processes to customers.
Credits for Solar + Storage
Recognizing the high value of resiliency and grid benefits that distributed solar and storage systems can deliver, some states and utilities provide upfront and ongoing credits to these systems. Credits provide fair compensation for grid services and encourage distributed battery storage systems. Examples of these credits include instant rebates, state tax credits, regular payments for providing power to the grid, and well-designed time of use (TOU) rates. TOU rates encourage use of the battery to reduce costly, peak power demand. Credits would help catalyze the market for solar and storage in Virginia and ensure a clean, locally-powered, and resilient energy system.
A solid majority of Virginians support more solar power in the Commonwealth. Distributed solar and storage have created thousands of jobs and delivered a billion dollars in economic development in Virginia. Continued growth of local solar and storage could deliver tens of thousands of jobs and billions of dollars of impact along with increased resiliency, lower energy bills, lower energy system costs, and much more local, clean energy.
 Kennedy, Brian and Alison Spencer. June 8, 2021. Pew Research Center. https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2021/06/08/most-americans-support-expanding-solar-and-wind-energy-but-republican-support-has-dropped/
 co/efficient. August 1, 2021. Commissioned by Conservatives for Clean Energy. “Virginia Statewide Clean Energy Survey.” https://cleanenergyconservatives.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/08/VA-Clean-Energy-Survey-8.1-1.pdf
 “...the residential sector created 38.7 jobs per MW installed, compared to 21.9 jobs for the non-residential sector and 3.3 jobs for utility-scale.” From: The Solar Foundation. 2018. “National Solar Jobs Census 2018.” Pg 30. https://irecusa.org/resources/national-solar-jobs-census-2018/
 Center for Urban and Regional Analysis at Virginia Commonwealth University. April 2020. “Assessing the benefits of distributed solar in Virginia.” https://cura.vcu.edu/media/cura/pdfs/cura-documents/CURAdistributedsolarreportv.1.2.withupdatedcurrentemployment.pdf
 Generation 180. January 2020. “Powering a brighter future: A report on solar schools in Virginia.” https://generation180.org/powering-a-brighter-future-va-2020-download/
 Schnabel, Megan. Cardinal News. August 17, 2022. “A 10-year pipeline of solar jobs in coal country?” https://cardinalnews.org/2022/08/17/a-10-year-pipeline-of-solar-jobs-in-coal-country/
 Synapse. 2020. Commissioned by Renewable Energy Vermont. https://www.synapse-energy.com/new-england-solar-savings
 US Census Bureau. American Community Survey. 2016-2020. https://www.census.gov/quickfacts/fact/table/VA/HSG445220
 Energy Innovation. April 25, 2022. “The $150 billion road electric school buses can ride to create American jobs and protect kids health” https://www.forbes.com/sites/energyinnovation/2022/04/25/the-150-billion-road-electric-school-buses-can-ride-to-create-american-jobs-and-protect-kids-health/
 Hibbard, Paul and Pavel Darling. June 2021. Analysis Group for Advanced Energy Economy. “Economic impact of stimulus investment in transportation electrification.” https://info.aee.net/economic-impact-of-stimulus-investment-in-transportation-electrification
 Learn more about SolarAPP+ https://solarapp.nrel.gov/