CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Advocates say public support for all types of solar projects and concepts is increasing across the state as three pieces of related legislation are considered by state lawmakers.
Bills relating to community solar programs, HB 4834, net metering, HB 5422, and the creation of a community solar pilot program, SB 638, are before lawmakers.
Bill supporters are hopeful for movement in the second half of the 60-day session.
Echelon Insights representative Patrick Rufini said more than 75% of state residents want families to have the right to own and benefit from their own solar panels. In addition, nearly 70% of those polled were in support of community solar initiatives, which would allow residential customers to tap into power from nearby solar panels without installing them at their own homes.
The data also said 65% of the Republicans, Independents, and Democrats polled would not approve of a legislature that attempted to limit or take those options away.
“West Virginians are strongly supportive of both the concept of solar power and residents and consumers taking advantage of solar panels,” Rufini said in a media event late last week.
Del. Evan Hansen, D-Monongalia, is the lead sponsor of HB 4834, which would establish a community solar program that would allow subscribers to earn credits against their electric bill. The utility would pay the community solar provider for the energy generated, and subscribers would receive a portion of the dollar value as a credit.
“This type of arrangement is particularly helpful for people who have a shaded roof, or maybe they rent their homes, or maybe they don’t have access to the roof and can’t invest in the infrastructure,” Hansen said.
HB 5422 would maintain the current net metering structure for owners of solar panels that create more electricity than they use in a billing cycle to receive “fair market” value compensation. CEO and founder of Solar Holler, Dan Conant, said the Public Service Commission is reviewing a case filed by Mon Power and Potomac Edison to reduce that to a “wholesale rate.”
“More than 1,700 have filed comments with the Public Service Commission in opposition, and one has filed in favor of the utility position,” Conant said. “So, we’re seeing incredible interest from the public.”
Conant said Solar Holler has generated about $20 million in economic impact over the last year. His customer list also includes some in the fossil fuel industry.
“We’ve actually been working with active coal miners and businesses in the industry who are interested in diversifying their energy mix,” Conant said.
Public opinion is evolving when it comes to alternative energy, and more people aren’t just changing their minds. Hansen said people and businesses are actually seeing what’s happening on the ground, and they want to get involved.
“There are more and more people and businesses that have gone solar and that are enjoying those benefits and understand how it’s saving them money,” Hansen said. “They are participating in the political process and making their voices heard.”
The 60-day legislative session ends March 9.