As the largest and most diverse locality in Virginia, Fairfax County leads by example. That is particularly important in the fight against climate change. The Virginia General Assembly finally created opportunities, including the Virginia Clean Economy Act (VCEA) and shared solar programs, that allow all Virginians – not just property owners – to realize the benefits of solar energy.
As we look to innovative strategies to achieve greater environmental sustainability, all eyes are on the State Corporation Commission (SCC), Virginia’s regulatory authority over utilities, to bring these bills to life with programs that can launch this coming year.
Fairfax County is home to 1.2 million people – more than double the population of the next largest county. By 2025, over 30% of our available housing will take the form of multi-family structures. It is increasingly vital to both adapt to this changing social and environmental landscape and to prioritize accessible renewable energy for all of our citizens, regardless of where they live. The best way we can do that is to expand shared solar.
“Shared solar” is like rooftop solar, but for folks who either can’t put solar on a rooftop or can’t afford the investment. Shared solar providers offer subscriptions to projects in the customer’s local area; in exchange the customer receives credits on their bill that, like a rooftop solar system, save them money while allowing them to participate in the clean energy economy. Shared solar allows a more economically diverse group of citizens to take control of their carbon footprint.
But, without action from the SCC, we won’t be able to take advantage of this valuable resource to bring solar into our diverse communities. The SCC, along with setting rates for utilities, also issues rules and regulations for public utility companies. In order to implement this method of solar energy across all communities, the SCC will need to develop a framework and regulatory guide for shared solar.
The need for accessible solar goes beyond Fairfax. The Clean Economy Act sets Virginia on an ambitious path to become 100% carbon-free by 2045. Even with comprehensive strategies, it is a monumental task that will require legislative and regulatory action for years down the road.
Our local success in clean energy policies depends on the state. In order to meet our goals, the State Corporation Commission must develop a robust and appropriate regulatory framework – one that empowers both customers and renewable energy advocates and gives them a strong voice at the regulatory table.
As the 2021 General Assembly session approaches, please take time to contact your representatives to urge them to ensure their clean energy legislative efforts reach the finish line at the State Corporate Commission.
Jeff McKay is chair of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors.