Virginia Regulatory Town Hall
Department of Energy
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8/24/18  10:46 am
Commenter: Glen Besa

Comments on two obstacles to distributed solar and conservation in Virginia

Virginia's largest utilties continue to obstruct the growth of renewable energy by numerous means.  I want to share just two first person examples that should addressed by this Administration in its 2018 Energy Plan. 

1. Dominion's deficiencies in customer billing and real time monitoring of energy useage

I have a 4.25 kW solar array on my roof. At any time I can use an App on my smart phone to check how much power that system generating. Dominion Energy installed a new electric meter that runs backward to capture any time the amount of electricity I am generating excceds what I am using. As a customer concerned with my energy usage for budget and enevironmental reasons, I am disappointed that Dominion has no similar App by which I can monitor my electricity usage without going outside to read my meter even though Dominion can apparently read my meter remotely any time. Customers should be able to access that same information to monitor their electricity consumption.

Additionally, the way Dominion bills customers with solar shows a lack of regard in providing them the most basic information as to how much energy that customer may be credited in any month that he generates more power than he uses.  To put it simply, while my new meter runs backward, my bills do not. My bill should show the actual meter reading in any month that I generate more than I use as that difference represents a one for one credit against my future demand for electricity from Dominion.  My April bill showed a meter reading of 701 kWh. Since May, I have been generating more power than I need but each subsequent bill shows the same meter reading at 701 with no reporting as to the credit I have earned. This would seem to require a simple "coding" fix in the billing department that Dominion has not done despite its growing number of solar customers. 

These two deficiencies I have noted undermine a customers ability to conserve and track their energy use by denying them the most basic information that Dominion has access to but declines to share with its customers.

2.  Excessive Standby charges

Utilities like Dominion Energy and Appalachian Power don't like solar energy, especially solar that they don't own or control.  

Among the most pernicious anti-solar laws in Virginia is the so-called "standby charge" that Dominion and AppPower had put into Virginia law to penalize homeowners with solar systems larger than 10 kW.  I urge the Northam Administration to pursue legislation to reform Virginia's standby charge to credit customers with the benefits their distributed solar systems contribute to the grid.  This should be one element of any grid modernization program. Below is an example of how the standby charge unfairly penalizes one AppPower customer in Henry County.

A 10 kW is a fairly large system but not unreasonable if you have a large house and you want to be "net zero," basically generating enough power when the sun is shining to offset the electricity you buy from your utility at night or on a cloudy day. If you have an electric car or heat with electricity, getting to net zero could mean you need more than 10 kW of solar.

Naomi Hodge-Muse, who lives in Henry County, Virginia has a 12 KW solar system on her home. That 12 kW system triggers the "standby charge" imposed by that utility.  In the long days of summer especially, when she is generating more power than she needs, you'd think her bill would be the minimal transmission charges and taxes. Naomi, who is retired and living on a fixed income--is penalized every month with a huge standby charge. 

Let's take a look at her May 2018 bill.  That month Naomi generated all or more of the power she needed.  When she got her bill for $56.84 it came with this explanation from AppPower:

"The standby charge is currently approved and set at $4.77 per kW of demand registering on a customer's meter each month ($3.03 for distribution and $1.74 for transmission).  This would represent our cost of standing by with facilities large enough to cover the customer's load when their solar generator cannot. We charge that standby charge to whatever extent it exceeds what the customer pays for the month in BASE distribution and transmission charges on any kWhs they purchase from us as those rates include some recovery of facility charges."

It is true that even if you have solar, as long as you are connected to the grid you are using utility services and you should pay the actual costs, but the utility should subtract from that amount the benefits your solar system contributes to the grid. For example, on a hot summer day, the excess power you are putting on the grid saves your utility a lot of money. Without your surplus electricity, the utility would have to buy major dollars that they are likely shelling out to buy additional electricity from other producers on that grid at to meet its peak demand, at a and peak price.  

If enough customers have solar on their homes, that extra power on a summer day not only saves your utility millions required to buy extra power, it could even offset the need for a new "peaker" gas power plant that the utilities build just to fire up on very hot summer days or very cold winter days. Not having to build a new peaker plant saves everyone money.

What Dominion Energy and Appalachian Power have done is to only count the theoretical costs of a homeowner’s solar to the utility (no doubt, inflated) and to ignore the benefits solar homes contribute to the electricity grid.

Of course, the real intent of these excessive standby charges is to discourage rooftop solar.  In some states, utilities have sought to impose standby fees on everyone with rooftop solar, not just the bigger systems. It is very likely that Dominion and AppPower will pursue such charges in Virginia if they think they can get it passed--a very good reason to watch carefully what their phalanx of lobbyists are doing at the General Assembly. 

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