Dominion Virginia Power's proposed solar energy program debated at SCC

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Dominion Virginia Power's proposed community solar power program got mixed reviews from members of the public and from industry and government officials at a State Corporation Commission hearing Wednesday.

The company proposes to build and operate up to 30 megawatts of solar-generating facilities at 30 to 50 commercial, industrial and community locations in its service area.

The Richmond-based utility estimates the demonstration program will cost $111 million and could add about 20 cents to the monthly bill of a typical residential customer.

"We're in favor of it," said Glen Besa with the Sierra Club's Virginia Chapter, though "we think the price is too high."

"Solar energy is, by its nature, unreliable and capricious," said Charles G. Battig with Virginia Scientists and Engineers for Energy and Environment.

"Dominion looks upon such costs as a positive job and tax revenue stream," Battig said. "The consumer looks upon them as unnecessary additional expenses on his electric bill.

"Most significantly," the Albemarle County resident told the commission, "when it is cloudy or the sun sets, there has to be a backup, conventional, fossil-fueled power plant if you wish the lights to come on."

The typical Dominion Virginia Power residential customer, using 1,000 kilowatt-hours of electricity, pays a monthly bill now of $105.90, the company said.

Packaging maker MeadWestvaco Corp. argued that, as one of Dominion Virginia Power's large industrial customers, state law exempts it from being charged for the proposed solar energy program.

On the other hand, the state Attorney General's Office did contend that all customers should pay for it.

Phillip Ellis, a Sierra Club organizer from Alexandria, told the commission that the utility's plan was "more for image" than impact on the environment. "Dominion must do more."

Still, "this is a step in the right direction," said Andy Bindea, president of Sigora Solar, a small solar-energy system design and installation company in Waynesboro.

Dominion Virginia Power's solar generation plan requires SCC approval, but the commission did not provide a timetable. However, Dominion Virginia Power would like to get the first site installed by late 2013.

With more than 2.3 million customers, Dominion Virginia Power is the state's largest electric utility.

One megawatt can power about 250 homes in Virginia.

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