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I never set out to be a crusader. I simply believed that I could offset some part of my electricity use for my house. I also believed that as an owner of private property, I could use my land according to my own wishes, barring any material detriment to my neighbors. Turns out, this was not so easy.

I wanted to build a small solar field of 8.6 kW, which is enough to power a modest house with the intent to add more panels if everything worked well. The panels performed up to spec. Everything else didn’t work quite as well.

I reached out to my electric provider, Dominion Virginia. At the time, the law only allowed you to generate power and offset your electrical use if the panels were physically attached to your house. I wanted to put my panels in a remote field and feed the electricity directly into the power lines running to my farm.

Here is what I learned about electricity.

First, electricity moves like water in a pipe. It can flow in different directions and you can add or withdraw from the pipe.

Second, the movement of the electricity in or out of the power line can be measured.

It made no difference whether I generated my electricity in a field or atop my house. There was no physical, safety or technical reason why I could not generate my electricity in an area remote from my house.

I explained to Dominion that this transaction should function no differently than my bank statement; I make a deposit and I make a withdrawal.

Dominion did not see the logic of this position and the law as it stood did not compel them to act otherwise. I tried as an alternative to sell electricity as an independent power producer, but I could only sell electricity at about 4 cents per kilowatt hour but had to pay about 11 cents per kilowatt hour to buy electricity. Dominion also added on interconnection fees. It was clear that solar power production was actively discouraged by existing law.

Frustrated but determined, I reached out to then-Sen. Mark Herring. In a true display of constituent service, Herring proposed a bill first drafted by a legislator in central Virginia that could prove a boon to farmers. This bill allowed farmers and other individuals to produce electricity in a field without the need for a physical interconnection to the building consuming power and sell that electricity at the same cents per kilowatt hour as they would have had to pay.

While Dominion was able to squash the bill that year, the banner was picked up and valiantly carried by Del. Randy Minchew, who knew that supporting rural development was important to Loudoun County. And this time, Agricultural Net Metering was passed in an amazing show of bipartisanship.

Since that time, incredible technological advances have made solar panels cheaper and more efficient. By most measures, solar generation is now cheaper, safer and more reliable than conventional generation and benefits all ratepayers. My new expanded solar field will now be 465 kW in size and will cover all the electricity needs of nine buildings on my farm.

But that is not the end of the story. These same advances have now given Virginians an opportunity to significantly change how we generate power. Our neighboring states north and south have already discovered this and are rapidly changing their electricity generation to include a larger percentage of wind, solar and other renewables. Why? Because it is cheaper for ratepayers.

And here is where my next effort has led me. If individuals and companies are willing to produce their own power and are allowed to sell it back to utilities within our state two things happen. The cost of the equipment to generate the power is not pushed on to the ratepayer, and the long-term cost to the rate payer is cheaper than if the utility built and maintained conventional fossil fuel generation. It is also cheaper than if the utility built its own solar or wind facilities in many cases because, yet again, the rate payer is not forced to pay the cost of the equipment. Add to this the benefit to farmers who can now have a reliable income for 25 years from land that may not be well-suited to growing crops. And rest easy that you as a ratepayer will not have to bear the fluctuating costs of fossil fuels and the increasing maintenance and operational costs for aging fossil fuel plants.

The time to change laws to incentivize power generation that is cheaper, safer and more reliable for the rate payer is now. I have set up a website called Powered by Facts to give you all the data surrounding power generation and why this matters to you. In addition, this upcoming legislative session gives us an opportunity to speak out and contact your legislator to support meaningful legislation to change electricity rates in your favor.

Karen Schaufeld

Leesburg

Comments


Karen, did you receive any tax breaks or subsidies from the government. If not, applause!

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