Dominion Virginia Power to buy electricity from small solar power generators

March 26, 2013 by  
Filed under Green Energy News

Homeowners and small businesses soon will be able to sell solar power they generate directly to Dominion Virginia Power.

The State Corporation Commission has approved a request by the Richmond-based electricity company to buy power at above-market rates from customers who own solar-generation installations.

“We feel like this will encourage more solar generation across the state,” Dianne Corsello, the company’s manager of customer solutions and new technology, said Monday.

Dominion Virginia Power’s demonstration Solar Purchase Program will allow qualifying solar customer-generators to sell all their sun-generated electricity to the utility company for five years and at the same time purchase all of their electricity from the company at their current rate.

“We will buy all of their generation and pay them 15 cents a kilowatt-hour,” Corsello said, “and the customers will buy all their energy from Dominion at an average price of about 10.5 cents per kilowatt-hour.”

Regular Dominion Virginia Power customers will pay 4 cents of the 15 cents, with the other 11 cents being paid for by the company’s voluntary Dominion Green Power program.

The 4-cent-per-kilowatt-hour portion of the payment represents the avoided cost of generating the electricity itself or buying the energy on the open market.

When the Solar Purchase Program is running fully, the utility will buy up to 3 megawatts of energy output from customer-owned solar generation installations. By comparison, Dominion Virginia Power has about 19,500 megawatts of available generation capacity in the state.

The power company expects that as many as 500 customers will participate in the Solar Purchase Program. The program’s subscribers will pay for and own the solar installations on their homes and businesses. They also will use some of the power they generate themselves.

Under the Green Power program, more than 15,000 customers elect to pay an additional charge of 1.3 cents per kilowatt-hour to support green energy from wind, solar and biomass facilities.

Dominion Virginia Power will start taking applications for the Solar Purchase Program on June 20, Corsello said, with customers signing up online and enrolling on a first-come, first-served basis.

The company will take the power from the customer-generators once new Dominion Virginia Power meters are installed to record how much electricity the solar installation produces for the company’s power grid.

Residential participants will be capped at 20 kilowatts of electric generation, she said, noting that the average home solar installation is about 4 kilowatts. Small commercial customers will be limited to 50 kilowatts, Corsello said, noting that present typical non-residential installations are about 20 kilowatts in size.

Three environmental groups — the Sierra Club, the Chesapeake Climate Action Network and Appalachian Voices — told the SCC that they were “concerned that the company’s program is promising more than will be actually delivered” in new solar power installations.

Despite that, said attorney Cale Jaffe with the Southern Environmental Law Center in Charlottesville, the program will help demonstrate savings to Dominion Virginia Power’s ratepayers in fuel and power transmission costs.

Among other findings, the corporation commission found that the Solar Purchase Program is reasonably designed to offer an alternative to net-energy metering.

In the net-energy-metering program, electricity from a customer’s own renewable power generation is used to offset electricity purchases from Dominion Virginia Power, with the customer billed monthly only for the “net” energy consumed. About 750 customers are signed up for net metering.

The Solar Purchase Program is part of the company’s Community Solar Power Program, under which Dominion Virginia Power also will construct and operate up to 30 megawatts of company-owned solar generation facilities at commercial, industrial, and public locations.

Dominion Virginia Power is the state’s largest power company, with 2.3 million customers.

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