The global pandemic and the ensuing economic crisis have highlighted many vulnerabilities and areas in need of reform across our economy and society. With this has come an opportunity to re-evaluate and build the future that we desperately need and one that we all deserve.
As we look forward and begin developing strategies for growing our economy and communities back, the solar industry is, undoubtedly, in one of the best positions to solve the current job crisis, as well as the current climate crisis: the solar industry is one of the fastest growing industries and has been one of America’s leading job creators over the past decade. Deploying solar is also among the fastest ways to reduce carbon emissions.
And here in Virginia — that story of hope is only just unfolding.
With the passage of the Virginia Clean Economy Act (VCEA) earlier this spring, a state-wide policy that shifts the Commonwealth’s energy production away from fossil fuels and moves Virginia toward 100 percent clean energy by 2045, the clean energy industry is poised to create thousands of local jobs, stimulate the state economy and build the next generation of Virginia’s clean power plants, all while creating an inclusive, equitable and diverse workforce.
According to a recent study conducted by the Virginia Commonwealth University’s Center for Urban and Regional Analysis, deploying 2,500 MW of distributed solar over the next ten years will result in over 29,500 jobs and over $7.1 billion in total economic impact, including generating $860 million in federal, state and local taxes.
And with over 5,000 MW currently in Virginia’s project pipeline for large-scale solar projects and with an additional 8-16,000 MW of solar over the next ten years, the need for qualified solar installers grows more evident each day.
Programs like Virginia-based Solar Hands-on Instructional Network of Excellence (SHINE) are actively seeking to address the workforce needs of this industry, while remaining deeply committed to building an inclusive and diverse workforce through its accessible, 2-week training course that allows students to earn the necessary certification to install solar of all sizes and offers an immediate pathway into a sustainable, well-paying solar career.
Thankfully, the federal government has recommended that “workers supporting the energy sector through renewable energy infrastructure” are essential critical infrastructure workers and can therefore, continue to work during this time, while implementing the federal government’s COVID-19 safety guidelines and best practices for outdoor construction sites.
Beyond the outstanding job creation potential, Virginia’s solar industry will play a critical role in stimulating local economies across the Commonwealth.
Two laws recently passed by the General Assembly enable counties to draw greater revenue from utility-scale solar projects, marking a starker contrast between solar and other forms of development. A recent analysis by Richmond-based firm Mangum Economics revealed large-scale solar projects in Virginia provide a greater net fiscal benefit to counties than several other land uses, such as agricultural or residential development. For example, a 100 MW solar facility will pay $118,000 to nearly $200,000 per year to a county in South-central Virginia but impose little costs like education, sewer lines, or other public services. Permitting in solar projects that pay consistent taxes provides an increasingly attractive option as our localities and communities continue to grapple with revenue shortfalls in the wake of COVID-19.
Solar can also provide land with an opportunity to recover, when paired with the planting of native Virginia grasses or pollinator friendly habitat can enhance the local environment. Farmers can utilize solar as a steady revenue stream to help smooth out the impact of grain and produce market volatility.
Transitioning our energy sector to a cleaner, more equitable grid requires all-hands-on-deck, and our localities and community members are key partners in this transition. Fortunately, localities have an opportunity to not only generate higher tax revenues from solar projects built in their jurisdictions but also leverage solar in ways that help to reduce their overall electricity costs.
Virginia’s new Commercial Property Assessment Clean Energy (CPACE) program, coordinated by the Department of Mines, Minerals and Energy (DMME), gives Virginia’s localities a new avenue to finance their own renewable energy systems and solutions, which presents an opportunity to lower the locality’s monthly electric bill and save tax-payer dollars. DMME will also be offering a solar technical assistance program to local governments to hasten and increase solar developments across Virginia through the SolSmart program, a federally-funded program. The goal is to provide Virginia’s local governments with the resources to recognize and remove barriers to solar development.
Lastly, as Virginia looks to power forward with 100% clean electricity, the solar industry continues to work alongside our state legislators to identify ways in which solar energy — be it through jobs, business opportunities or as an end-use electricity resource — can become more equitable and accessible.
For example, the VCEA drastically expanded solar access to Low-to-Moderate Income (LMI) households, who have historically not had the same access to solar, including a carve-out for solar projects dedicated specifically to LMI communities.
Efforts from state bodies like the Clean Energy Advisory Board are also working to ensure that LMI households have ample opportunities to directly benefit from solar.
Whether the industry is creating thousands of well-paying jobs or creating opportunities for our localities to generate higher tax revenues, the solar industry will be a crucial part of our economic recovery as we build a resilient electricity infrastructure to bring clean, reliable, low-cost power to all Virginians.
Maryland D.C. Virginia Solar Energy Industry Association (MDV-SEIA) is the second-largest state affiliate of the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) with over 160 member organizations, representing over 10,000 solar jobs in the region. Through direct advocacy, policy formation, regulatory intervention and market representation, MDV-SEIA strives to develop and implement strong solar policies to ensure continued market formation for all solar segments in this region and beyond.
David Murray, Executive Director
Rachel Smucker, Virginia Policy and Development Manager MD-DC-VA Solar Energy Industry Association firstname.lastname@example.org