RICHMOND — Dominion Energy customers who enroll in a new shared solar program will be required to pay a monthly minimum bill that critics say is too high. But those interested in a different solar program for people who live in multifamily housing like apartments will see a lower administrative fee than initially proposed by the utility.
The State Corporation Commission issued two decisions Thursday that will affect utility customers who face barriers to installing rooftop solar on their own home. One keeps the minimum monthly bill for shared solar customers at $55.10. The other decision lowers an administrative fee for the multifamily solar program from $87.68 to $16.78.
Both programs were created by legislation in the 2020 session to expand options for solar use, with the shared solar program intended for those with solar restrictions like shady yards. The multifamily solar program was intended to be used by those living in apartments.
The decisions were made after the commission was asked to reconsider an earlier decision on the monthly minimum bill for the shared solar program and reject an administrative charge proposed by Dominion for the multifamily program.
Dominion argued that the $55.10 minimum bill and $87.68 administrative fee were needed to implement the respective programs.
The SCC sided with the utility Thursday on the shared solar program, ruling that having customers pay a “fair share of the costs of providing electric service” is “not unreasonable” and is in line with state code.
As for the multifamily program, the commission found that “reasonable” administrative costs should not include fees for electric system infrastructure, such as transmission and distribution delivery.
The Southern Environmental Law Center, representing nonprofit Appalachian Voices, had asked for the reconsideration of the $55.10 monthly minimum bill along with the Coalition for Community Solar Access.
On Thursday, the SELC reiterated its argument that the $55.10 minimum bill will be the highest in the county.
The legislation allowing the shared solar program was “intended to provide a lower-cost pathway to solar for Virginians of all income levels who were unable to put solar on their own roofs, but today’s decision by the SCC has effectively turned shared solar into a premium program for non-low-income participants,” SELC Associate Attorney Josephus Allmond said in a statement.
Allmond praised the SCC’s rejection of the $87.68 administrative fee for the multifamily solar program.
“For solar to be a real option in every corner of the commonwealth, it must be affordable, and it must be accessible even to people who can’t put solar panels on their roofs,” Allmond said in a statement.
Dominion spokesperson Aaron Ruby said in an email that the company was still reviewing the multifamily order but that the General Assembly had required a minimum bill for the shared solar program to avoid shifting costs onto nonparticipating customers.
“It includes the cost of delivering electricity to participating customers, providing backup electricity when solar is not available, as well as administrative costs,” Ruby said. “Importantly, low income customers are exempt from the minimum bill.”
The two programs are voluntary for customers who prefer to purchase a solar subscription from a third-party developer, and separate from larger solar and offshore wind projects being developed to reach a zero-carbon grid, Ruby added.
Households interested in shared solar won’t be able to enroll in a program until July 1, 2023. Enrollment in the multifamily program is open now, but no projects have been proposed.
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