The Daily News-Record (Harrisonburg, VA) – February 22, 2019
By Sally Newkirk
On Jan. 24, I went to Richmond for Solar Lobby Day, together with several Harrisonburg and Rockingham County residents. We sat through seven hours of the House of Delegates’ Commerce and Labor Subcommittee for consideration of over 40 bills related to energy efficiency and renewable energy, broadband and other matters related to Virginia’s utilities. The subcommittee members’ votes would determine what bills would be passed on for consideration by the full committee and, if passed there, eventually would be voted on by all Delegates. Del. Tony Wilt is a member.
I was interested in about a dozen bills that were introduced to help Virginia’s distributed solar industry continue to grow by removing existing barriers. Energy and solar kept being pushed back to late into the day. Finally, after 6 p. m., they were introduced, and then advocated for by businesses ( Google and Microsoft, and installers), environmental groups, and political groups ( Conservatives for Renewable Energy, Earth Stewardship Alliance, and the Green Party of Arlington, to name a few). Dominion and Appalachian Power voiced consistent opposition to bills designed to remove barriers to solar.
One example: Virginia law now sets a 1 percent cap on distributed solar ( rooftop) that can be “ net- metered” in a utility service area. Under net metering, utility customers who produce their own energy from solar or wind can receive credit for that production against electricity usage, thus lowering their bills. The catch is that, if one lives in a service area in which the 1 percent cap has been reached, the utility can deny net metering. Another example: There are limits in Virginia’s law on third- party financing using power purchase agreements that hamper efforts by nonprofit and municipal institutions to reduce their energy costs.
Advocates for these and other bills considered that day made the clear points that these barriers represent unnecessary and market- unfriendly rules that discourage growth of solar companies and, by extension, jobs. Solar and wind industry jobs can’t be outsourced and local installers who employ these workers can boost their local economies because the wages earned will be spent locally.
Needless to say, all these bills were voted down along party lines, most Republicans voting nay, including our local delegate, Wilt. Let me make this clear: With his vote, Mr. Wilt opposed jobs, job creators, schools, nonprofits, lower- and middle-income folks who could benefit from lower electricity bills — in other words, many of his constituents. Instead, he voted in favor of government regulations and the for- profit monopoly for- profit utilities ( that put investor interests first).
My question for Mr. Wilt: How he would have grown his business if the state slapped a cap on how much concrete he could pour? I would also challenge the voters to look at what your representative stands for before you cast your ballot. It seems like just because Tony Wilt has an “ R” after his name doesn’t mean he is for growing our local economy, and antigovernment regulations, because in this case, he didn’t.
Sally Newkirk lives in Mount Crawford.
Sally serves on the Steering Committee of the Climate Action Alliance of the Valley