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Solar Advocates Press for Rules to Boost WV Business Growth

Solar installer is the fastest-growing job in the country, but few of these positions are coming to West Virginia. (Pixabay)
Solar installer is the fastest-growing job in the country, but few of these positions are coming to West Virginia. (Pixabay)
December 21, 2018

CHARLESTON, W.Va. – Clean-energy advocates are looking to the Legislature for solar-energy rules they say could reform West Virginia's grid for consumers, big and small.

West Virginia doesn't allow Power Purchase Agreements – where a third party invests the big up-front costs of installing solar power, then charges the customer for the electricity. Autumn Long, program director with Solar United Neighbors of West Virginia, says more than half the businesses and almost all the schools, churches and hospitals that have "gone solar" nationally have taken that route.

She says it would also help attract new businesses committed to renewables.

"Seeking to source 100 percent of their power from renewable sources,” says Long. “So, if West Virginia doesn't start building out that renewable infrastructure to offer these companies, we're going to get passed over."

Meanwhile, utilities want the Public Service Commission to cut the rate they credit solar-system owners for the excess power they send back to the grid. Customers now get bill credit at the retail rate. The utilities want to credit their bills at the wholesale rate.

Long describes the state's net-metering law as "pretty good," but says entrenched fossil-fuel interests have fought hard against rules that would help the solar industry.

She says it's part of the reason West Virginia is losing out on solar installer jobs – the single fastest-growing job, nationally. Official records say the state has a few hundred solar positions, but Long says many of them are in manufacturing, with only part of their time spent on solar.

"The number of full-time solar installation jobs is probably more like in the dozens than in the hundreds,” says Long. “And that's compared to going on 4,000 solar jobs in Virginia, close to 7,000 in Ohio, over 5,000 in Maryland."

She notes West Virginia has some of the fastest-rising electric rates in the country, up about 6 percent a year, compared to about 1.5 percent nationally. She says it's another factor undermining the state's appeal for companies that might move here.

Not long ago, West Virginia had some of the lowest power rates. Now, it's near the middle of the pack.

Dan Heyman, Public News Service - WV