SolUnesco White Paper: Solar Myths Busted

 

Background

 

This white paper is a companion piece to our two previous blogs on local permitting (Hodsoll and Maughan). In our local permitting blogs we provided our perspectives on best practices for local permitting and how we engage with the local community. We write this white paper to discuss some of the issues and concerns that are raised by the community during this process.

 

All of us engaged in the industry have heard the naysayer’s arguments. From the most bizarre – “solar fries birds” and “it sucks up all the sun” – to the reasonable but still misinformed – “solar is expensive and subsidized,” “it will use up all our farmland,” “solar doesn’t work because it can’t provide power at night.”  As an industry, we must both respect alternative views and provide accurate information to dispel unfounded concerns. In this white paper, we tackle a comprehensive list of fears and myths.

Solar Industry’s Richmond Legislative Meet and Greet

 

February 5th, 2018 By SolUnesco

 

Last Tuesday, the Solar Industry’s regional association (MD, DC, DE & VA Solar Energy Industry Association - MDV-SEIA) hosted a Meet and Greet at the Virginia Credit Union League in Richmond, VA. The event provided opportunities for Virginia legislators to get to know the local solar industry and learn more about solar energy legislation that we supported.

 

The event highlighted several Bills which were the result of a two-year mediated process called the Rubin Solar Workgroup[1].  For the last two years, our CEO Francis Hodsoll has represented the overall solar business interests with a focus on the utility-scale market segment. The Solar Industry is also represented by David Murray, Executive Director of MDV-SEIA and Scott Thomasson, Southeast Director of Vote Solar.

Local Permitting, SolUnesco’s 101

 

January 29, 2018 By Francis Hodsoll

 

For nearly a decade, my business partner and I have devoted our hearts and considerable time to developing a sustainable solar energy market in Virginia. However, the local permitting process poses a significant risk to the long-term viability of the market. In this companion piece to Seth’s previous blog post on our successful permitting experience in Orange County, Virginia, we offer our perspectives on local permitting and the concerns typically raised by local communities.  We hope we can help steer these processes towards solutions that enable solar developers and communities to effectively work together to best address the objectives and concerns of all parties.

 

Over the last few months, we’ve read several stories detailing concerns about the proliferation of utility-scale solar. One county commissioner said to me, “Francis, I'm very concerned that my district will be overrun by solar farms. A local paper recently ran an editorial on solar sprawl.” We've met with other local officials who have said similar things.

Community Engagement Wins Board Approval for SolUnesco’s Orange County Solar Project

 

As solar developers, we believe in our mission and the positive impacts of our work. Even so, we should never assume that a community will embrace a new solar energy generating plant.

 

Local permitting can be the most precarious stage of utility-scale solar development. It’s the only stage where the people who decide your project’s fate don’t follow a uniform rubric. A county official may be able to deny your project for any reason. As a result, politics and emotion often kill solar projects at local permitting.

 

Engaging with stakeholders on the ground is a critical part of the process to understand the perspective and potential concerns of the community. This approach worked well for us in Orange County, Virginia, where the Board of Supervisors voted to approve a Special Use Permit for our Madison Solar Project earlier this month. The 400-acre solar farm will produce 62.5 MW of energy (enough to power over 9,700 Virginia homes) and span 400 acres of agricultural land. Madison is the first utility-scale solar array proposed and approved in Orange County.

Fiscal Impact on the County: How does Solar Compare to other Land Uses?

 

This post references research and analysis from an original SolUnesco white paper, which can be downloaded in full, here.

 

Much has been said about the recent plummeting costs of solar technology, and the corresponding ability for utility-scale projects to legitimately compete with more conventional forms of generation. While this is certainly a reality, it is also conditional. Solar profit margins are generally still too slim to overcome less-than-ideal project conditions. The most elemental development ingredient is land; in order to make these projects pencil, we developers must target large, open, flat, and relatively inexpensive land. As such, these projects are often sited on land that has historically been used for agricultural purposes.

Gillespie, Like Many VA GOP, Supports All Energy Forms

 

Under Governor Terry McAuliffe, Virginia has seen a rapid growth of its renewable energy market, particularly with solar energy development. With the upcoming gubernatorial election, it has been unclear how much support renewable growth will continue to receive from Richmond; While Democratic candidate Ralph Northam is committed to the status quo set up by McAuliffe, Republican Ed Gillespie has been silent on renewables – his campaign site only touts a desire to work with the White House in promoting the use of fossil fuel resources.

Solar Power Southeast: Does Passion + Wisdom = Resilience?

 

Despite scary challenges, strength and optimism

 

While the Suniva trade case – potentially a devastating price increase especially for utility-scale – loomed largely, attendees eagerly packed presentations.  The audience’s questions provided an interesting barometer to the psyche in the room.  Participants focused on where we are going and how to get there.  Further, the evolving business models continue to pry open market segments.  We are tenacious!

 

Even in markets dominated by utilities such as Florida Power & Light, some competitors have created interesting niches.  Not to be cowed, participants strategized on how to open up the Florida market.  Within my aperture, conference attendees did not appear to be hunkering down even in these monopoly-controlled markets.  As an industry, our entrepreneurial ethos and scrappiness continue as enduring strengths.

The Dominion IRP in Four Graphs

 

 

On May 1, Dominion filed its 2017 Integrated Resource Plan (IRP), in which Dominion announced a sharp pivot toward solar. Dominion’s commitment to building out more solar capacity, along with the decisions they make regarding how they participate in development and ownership, will determine market opportunities for those segments of the industry.

 

The Composite Index, Problem Solved!

 

 

We have good news!  On April 6th Virginia’s Tax Commissioner, Craig M. Burns, issued a letter clarifying the valuation of solar projects within the Composite Index. The bottom line: these solar farms will provide a net revenue benefit to the county.  As previously stated, bureaucratic bookkeeping could have inadvertently ground Virginia solar development to a halt by reducing county revenue when new solar farms are built. The following is the third of three installments highlighting SolUnesco’s research on the Virginia Composite Index and its impact on solar electric generation. To download our complete findings, click here.