HARRISONBURG — A stormcloud over the Harrisonburg solar industry has been blown away this week as the Harrisonburg Electric Commission announced that it would not be changing the reimbursement approach to solar energy producers during its meeting.
In April, HEC announced that it would be raising the solar cap from 1 to 2%, as Harrisonburg is rapidly approaching 1% of all electric energy share being produced by solar.
When solar energy is produced, residents can either use it immediately or sell it to HEC at the standard rate HEC charges for electricity.
This practice is called net metering, and was also on the table for changes in the April announcement.
The proposed changes were set to take effect on Sept. 1 and all those enrolled in net metering before then would be grandfathered into agreements for 25 years.
“Every kilowatt hour generated by the customer gets full retail value credit whether it is used at the time of generation or put back onto the system and netted against usage at the end of the month,” said Brian O’Dell, general manager of HEC.
But without any information on what specific changes would be done to metering, the solar industry in Harrisonburg faced a good deal of uncertainty, said Jeff Heie, the program coordinator of Give Solar, a nonprofit raising money and installing solar panels for other nonprofits.
“If people wanted to apply solar and applied for a permit after Sept. 1, it was unclear what the solar net metering policy would be after that date,” Heie said. “It was difficult for solar installers to talk about payback period, which is a pretty significant factor.”
Solar panels are an investment, which over years, can pay for themselves. To estimate the time though, installers need to know net metering.
“We heard from the community and we understand that may have caused a little uncertainty,” O’Dell said.
At Tuesday’s meeting, the commission decided to stay the course without changing the policy.
Which is good news for the six solar installation companies in Harrisonburg and those looking to invest in a solar rig of their own, Heie said.
Harrisonburg is likely to become the first locality in the state to have more than 1% of the energy share come from solar, as more than .93% percent of energy is already produced by solar.
The limit was raised to 2% and HEC will study the effect of penetration levels of net metering, O’Dell said.
This raise in capacity of solar is significant, because it will not hamper solar businesses from continuing their work, Heie said.
Harrisonburg has two times the solar as the other 15 municipal utilities in Virginia — combined, according to Heie, with 147 systems producing 1,329 kilowatts.
“It’s pretty remarkable what’s happening in Harrisonburg,” Heie said.