Solar panels. CL Shebley /

In the Virginia 2022 Energy Plan, leaders in the Commonwealth outlined a data-driven roadmap to transform Virginia’s energy future that considers all energy sources to maximize affordability, reliability, competitiveness, innovation, and job creation. The plan specifically calls on lawmakers to remove anti-competitive barriers to distributed generation – including shared solar. 

Shared solar refers to locally based solar projects that offer all residents, even those who cannot afford or are unable to install solar panels on their homes, the choice to receive a portion of their electricity from solar energy. Anyone, including households, businesses, schools, churches, and local governments, can participate in the project and save money by subscribing to off-site solar installations. Subscribers earn credits for the energy generated by the solar project, and those credits then translate into savings of up to 20% on their power bills. 

Incorporating shared solar into Virginia’s energy mix would give consumers freedom to choose low-cost renewable power sources, like shared solar, and increase market options and diversify revenue sources that will benefit families, businesses, and our local economies.  To access all of the benefits shared solar offers, the state legislature must pass Senate Bills 1266 and 1083.

Current policy prohibits Virginians from accessing clean energy market options by forbidding other energy companies that offer innovative and cost-saving renewable energy technologies, to compete with utility monopolies.  As it stands, current laws prevent families and businesses from saving money on energy costs and stifle opportunities to bring new and lasting clean energy jobs to local communities. 

Besides lowering energy costs for consumers, lawmakers should allow shared solar to participate in Virginia’s energy market to incentivize major investment in our rural communities. Because shared solar projects rely on locally sourced power generation, landowners would have the freedom to lease their property to a shared solar developer in exchange for much needed revenue to preserve generational family farms. 

In Augusta County we voted to approve a shared solar project last year, which is set to be operational this summer. We saw the shared solar project as a win-win for our community. The project will create jobs, generate tax revenue for our county, the landowner will receive lease payments, and subscribers will save on their energy bills. What is not to like? We wanted this project in Augusta County, we want more shared solar projects, and I suspect most county supervisors across the Commonwealth would want that same opportunity, and our lawmakers should allow us.

With respect to local economies, job creation, consumer cost-savings, and equal access to clean energy options, the benefits of allowing a competitive shared solar market in Virginia’s energy space are enormous and supported by a wealth of research data. But these benefits will only be realized if lawmakers take action to remove existing barriers within the market. 

If the General Assembly isn’t motivated enough to pass legislation that allows local communities to benefit from a job-creating, economy-boosting, competitive shared solar program, then hopefully they will at least consider the benefits shared solar would provide to the entire Commonwealth of Virginia. Senate bills 1266 and 1083 could create over 12,000 construction jobs and $5.6 billion in economic impacts, including tax revenues, over the life of the programs, which is in addition to creating new and lasting sales, marketing, and other ancillary service jobs. Plus, an average landowner could receive over $30,000 each year from a lease payment on a 5 MW solar project, providing much needed revenue to support the operations of currently struggling farms. And these are just some of the benefits legislators could bring to Virginia.

Lawmakers in the General Assembly have the chance to stand up to the utilities and stand for Virginians by passing Senate Bill 1266 and 1083. Let’s hope they make the right call and no longer deny Virginians the freedom to decide what energy source and price works best for us. 

Supervisor Scott Seaton is the Wayne Magisterial District Supervisor in Augusta County. He is a Republican.