On Wednesday, the Harrisonburg Electric Commission connected the home solar-energy system of Mike Tedross and Marianne Saeed to the city grid, making HEC the first municipally-owned utility in the state to have an installed capacity of solar reach 1% of annual peak load.
“I think it just shows that commitment to the environment and renewables that we have here in the Valley and particularly within our city limits,” said Brian O’Dell, general manager of HEC.
Tedross said that he had been looking at solar-energy systems since 2015.
“We wanted to save on our electric bills and help the environment as well,” he said.
The system should cover 100% of the home’s electrical demand, Tedross said, and they will be able to earn credit for kilowatts generated through solar net metering.
HEC raised the net metering cap in April from 1% to 2% of calculated peak load.
At the time, HEC anticipated the 1% mark to be reached by the end of the year, according to O’Dell, which proved correct.
The cap is important because before HEC increased the threshold, anyone who installed systems after 1% of the peak was already reached would not be able to have full availability of retail credit for their kilowatt hours generated, O’Dell said.
Peak load is defined as the top hour of electrical demand from the previous year, which O’Dell said was created on the morning of Jan. 5, 2018 between 7 and 8 a.m., when residents and businesses used 143.8 megawatts.
O’Dell said the rate of solar installs, such as the one on the home of Tedross and Saeed, has grown rapidly in the city over recent years.
In 2010, HEC installed the first five solar-energy systems in the city. Wednesday’s connection of Tedross and Saeed’s home was the 39th system linked in 2019 so far, according to O’Dell.
The city now has 161 solar installations, of which 140 are residential, which has an installed capacity to produce 1.444 megawatts.
And the HEC isn’t the only area utility to see solar interest grow.
The Shenandoah Valley Electric Cooperative had approximately 420 net metering installations in late 2018, according to Preston Knight, a spokesman for the co-op.
There are over 500 now, he said.
Both the Shenandoah Valley Electric Cooperative and the BARC Electric Cooperative, which serves the counties of Bath, Rockbridge, Alleghany, Highland and Augusta, also passed the 1% threshold in 2019, according to Ken Jurman, of the Virginia Department of Mines, Minerals and Energy.
SVEC advocated for a bill that would allow for increase in the net metering cap for cooperatives to 5%, which passed in the 2019 General Assembly session and was signed by Gov. Ralph Northam.
“This is a reflection of cooperatives’ commitment to meeting the needs of their members,” Knight said in an email. “Long term, the pending increased cap means our members will have better access to a diverse power supply and be even better stewards of the environment through renewable energy resources.”
The idea for HEC’s 1% cap originally came from the State Corporation Commission, O’Dell said, which used the metric as a guide, even though HEC is not under the jurisdiction of the State Corporation Commission.
Going forward, the commission could consider increasing the utility’s solar net metering cap again, O’Dell said.
“I think we’ll just have to monitor the connections and the response from the citizens as far as how the requests are going and how it stacks up against our 2% and consider that when necessary,” he said.