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Expand West Virginians’ access to solar power

By Staff | Sep 21, 2018

West Virginia lawmakers can expand access to solar power across the Mountain State without costing taxpayers a dime. Right now, however, if you want to go solar you don’t have many options.

Present West Virginia law forbids you to buy electricity produced by a solar system that you don’t own. This legal policy impedes your ability to go solar and cash in on the savings.

Legalizing solar Power Purchase Agreements will enable more West Virginians to go solar. It will also create good local jobs and economic development. PPAs allow you the electricity consumer to benefit from solar power cost-cutting without having to buy your own solar system.

A PPA is a contract for a third-party developer to put a solar array on your property. You then buy, at a fixed rate, the electricity the solar array produces. PPAs are particularly beneficial for tax-exempt institutions like schools, churches and municipalities.

Shepherdstown Presbyterian Church made national news in 2014 when it installed solar panels using an innovative fiscal approach developed by the Shepherdstown business Solar Holler. The solar panels can produce nearly half the church’s typical annual electricity budget.

PPAs would similarly extend residential solar ownership. In 2014 nearly three-quarters of all residential solar projects were installed with third-party ownership, according to GTM Research.

Third-party solar ownership played an important role in helping grow the American residential solar market. In the early part of this decade, it sparked adoption of residential solar by drastically lowering homeowners’ upfront cost. At the trend’s peak in 2014, nearly 75 percent of all residential solar systems were purchased via third-party ownership. This figure has now dropped to about half of all residential solar put online today.

Today the market for solar is stronger than ever, but West Virginia’s out-of-date law regarding PPAs impedes expansion of solar. It also means consumers and school systems can’t save money on their energy bills.

Ed Zahniser, of Shepherdstown