A nonprofit company specializing in addressing complex public policy issues has begun holding a series of meetings to solicit input from solar and wind energy stakeholders that will be used to formulate the Northam administration’s update to the Virginia Energy Plan.
Discussion topics will address community solar, corporate procurement of clean energy, state/local barriers to the deployment of renewable energy projects, and net metering (connecting rooftop solar panels to the electric grid).
The nonprofit, Washington, D.C.-based Meridian Institute is organizing the sessions under contract with Dominion Energy, as provided for under the Grid Transformation and Security Act enacted earlier this year. Meridian will publish a compilation of comments around the end of August. The feedback from this and other stakeholder groups addressing energy efficiency, electric vehicles and battery storage will provide input into the Northam administration’s development of the state’s energy plan. The previous plan, written by the McAuliffe administration, was published in 2014.
The inaugural session was not organized to collect input on the designated topics but to discuss the way Meridian had organized and framed the issues. Stakeholders will have a chance to make specific comments in hearings scheduled in July and August.
Given the preliminary nature of discussions, no strong points of contention emerged at the meeting, which was held at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond earlier today.
A few members of the roughly 60 people in attendance did wonder if Meridian might suffer from a conflict of interest due to its engagement by Dominion. Tim Mealey, a Meridian managing director, responded that his group is committed to openness, transparency, and reflecting the voices of all stakeholders. Meridian will not be issuing a report or making policy recommendations — its work product will be a summary of the participants’ views. Dominion will not review or approve the summary.
Several others questioned the way Meridian framed issues relating to the siting of solar and wind projects: What is Virginia doing right regarding the siting of renewable energy projects, and do stakeholders believe there are impediments to siting renewable energy projects in the Commonwealth?
Adam Gillenwater with the American Battlefield Trust said members of his group do not see the preservation of battlefields as an “impediment” to solar farms but rather as a competing good to be taken into consideration in siting decisions.
Others noted that the problems encountered by utility-scale solar and wind projects are different from the obstacles experienced by small power producers generating electricity at the rooftop level. Perhaps Meridian would consider conducting separate discussions for utility-scale and rooftop-scale issues, suggested Katharine Bond, Dominion senior policy adviser.
Mealey did not indicate what changes he might make to the discussion format. It is a “very unusual arrangement” to have an electric utility pay and contract for policy discussions mandated by a piece of legislation, he said. But he did not see that as a problem. His charge is to address the topics enumerated in the Grid Transformation and Security Act without being “unduly constrained” by the wording of the act.There are currently no comments highlighted.