Solar Panels in Virginia: A Primer

by Emilio Jaksetic

Virginia law (Virginia Code, Section 67-701 ) makes it easier for owners to consider installing solar panels on their property by limiting the ability of community associations to prohibit or restrict the installation of solar panels on the owner’s property.  While the statute is likely to encourage the use of solar panels by property owners, there are some things that should be considered by property owners, community associations, and local government officials.

First, community associations in Virginia should get legal advice about the scope and applicability of Section 67-701 before trying to prohibit or restrict an owner from installing a solar panel on the owner’s property.  (The relevant definition of “community association” is provided by Section 67-700.)

Second, owners should not rush to install solar panels on their property, and community associations should not rush to install solar panels on the common areas of their community, without considering the following:

(1) the pros and cons of solar panels relevant to their particular situation;

(2) the need to get building and/or inspection permits before having a solar panel installed;

(3) the need to get new building and/or inspection permits when a solar panel has to be  removed to allow for repair or replacement of a roof and then is reinstalled;

(4) how to find a company that is licensed, bonded, insured and qualified to install or repair a solar panel;

(5) whether solar panels are covered by their homeowners or other property insurance, and whether there are any exceptions or qualifications to such insurance coverage;

(6) the total life cycle costs of purchasing, installing, operating, maintaining, repairing, replacing and disposing of solar panels;

(7) the risks of damage to solar panels by weather, animals, or other pests;

(8) the pros and cons and risks associated with battery storage connected to solar panels; and

(9) whether damaged or obsolete solar panels are classified as hazardous e-waste requiring special handling and disposal.

Third, community associations also need to consider whether installing solar panels in common areas raises any issues or problems for them because of the legal duties and responsibilities of the community association.

Fourth, state and local government officials need to consider whether they should regulate the disposal and recycling of solar panels. Although most of the components of a solar panel can be recycled, solar panels can contain dangerous materials such as arsenic, cadium, gallium, lead, and others that can qualify as hazardous waste.

Fifth, fire fighters and first responders need to be educated, trained, and equipped to deal with the hazards associated with damaged solar panels, improper battery storage, and toxic fumes generated by burning or fire-damaged solar panels. And, communities need to plan for the added taxpayer-funded expenses associated with these additional requirements.

This article is offered for informational and discussion purposes only. Anyone considering whether to install and use solar panels should seek advice and assistance from competent, qualified professionals before acting. Installing, repairing, and disposing of solar panels should not be done by unqualified people. The potential legal issues may warrant seeking advice from a licensed attorney. The potential insurance issues warrant a consultation with your insurance company. The references listed below are illustrative, and not exhaustive.

Safety issues for firefighters and first responders:

The fire captain teaching solar and battery literacy for first responders” (November 2, 2020).

Matt Piantesdosi & Tony Granato, “Solar Photovoltaic (PV) Fire Safety Training” (slide presentation, 190 frames)

Nick Gromicko, “Solar panel fires and electrical hazards.”

Life-cycle, recycling and disposal of solar panels

Northeast Recycling Council, “The opportunities of solar panel recycling” (January 29, 2019)

Solar Energy Industries Association, “PV End-of-Life Management” (September 2019)

Tiffany Duong, “Solar panels are starting to die. Will we be able to recycle the e-waste?” (August 30, 2020)

Maddie Stone, “Solar panels are starting to die, leaving behind toxic trash” (August 22, 2020)

Bill Wertz, “Solar panels produce tons of toxic waste — literally,” (November 18, 2019)

Emilio Jaksetic, a retired lawyer, is a Republican in Fairfax County.

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16 responses to “Solar Panels in Virginia: A Primer

  1. Right now I think the end-of-life considerations are going to prove the largest headache (see Moore’s Planet of the Humans), and as is usual for humans long-term thinking just doesn’t happen. Having grown up on deserts, I’ve always been an advocate for solar where the capacity factors make sense. Virginia is not one of those sunny desert environments….but the industry here is booming and it is one of the wider cracks in the utility monopoly that the environmental movement has been able to drive. The industry does practice high end rent seeking with the best of them.

    In the townhome neighborhood where Bacon and I live, the rooftops are owned by the association and very few units have enough yard to consider a yard installation. HOA’s sometimes make local governments look libertarian….

    • Steve nails it.

      I predict massive long term problems in Virginia given its natural constraints on Solar, and the state’s long history of weak regulatory land use, that has resulted in much abuse across the entire state.

      And, as Michael Moore’s video Planet of the Humans, and as has been discussed on this blog and by many others such as Michael Shellenberger, Founder and President, Environmental Progress, these massive solar farm can cause much harm in desert environments as well.

      Solar likely will be a debacle, reminding one of the auto junkyards (small, large, and massive) that plagued and littered Virginia’s roadsides through the 1960s and beyond.

  2. Solar panel technology is still evolving. The lack of standardization and replacement panels should also be considered by individuals considering an investment in solar. My neighbor has a damaged panel, but cannot purchase a replacement.

    In a few years, it remains to be seen how many of today’s producers will still be in business.

  3. Not sure what my HOA is thinking about solar. Nobody in my HOA seems to have solar.

    What us really holding back rooftop solar in Virginia is lack of state subsidies, better known as net-meeting. States that really want to encourage rooftop solar make the subsidized cost cheaper or equivalent to regular grid power. I do not feel we should do that, but if some homeowner wants to pay the add’l of cost rooftop solar, we should make that possible maybe some cost help.

    Virginia is favoring utility scale solar because that’s what our state run monopoly utility wants to do, and ultra expensive offshore wind. The roof top solar is historically more expensive than utility scale, but I would encourage homeowners so inclined. But to repeat I do not feel we should make rooftop solar artificially cheap with big state incentives.

    Also (but I further repeat myself) much of Northeast RGGI states like Pa. you can opt for relatively cheap and green *onshore* wind energy at your house.

    • Just how do they guarantee that only those electrons from those turbines are the one’s coming into your house, TBill? 🙂 Uh, cause they cannot.

      • What’s actually for sale is bragging rights and virtue signaling.

      • Yes, a few days back, every time I clicked Google, little green leaves tingled down my computer screen claiming that Google operated carbon free. How can you trust a company that lies like that?

        Short answer: you cannot.

        Yet, many very large American companies make that false claim everyday without any push-back at all.

        • Remember “If you see the thousands of them along PA/MD/WV, somebody is buying the energy. It is not fake, and it is much cheaper than offshore wind,” that those structures are already imposing massive costs on the environment, much of it hidden, including our soul searing experience of replacing vast forests and fields with machines everywhere.

          And for what?

          Given the enormous inefficiency and instability of these machines (for example the vast tracks of land they occupy at the rate of 400 acres to 1 over nuclear), plus the clean up and maintenance costs, and the great risks that presents, the truth is that only carbon (primarily gas) and nuclear plants can keep these solar and wind going and workable at all and, based on California, at double the costs to at least, with luck, the mid term future, if not far longer, by which time new technologies might well prove solar and wind obsolete.

          The great falsehood of 100% carbon free claims comes in with this “the truth is that only carbon (primarily gas) and nuclear plants can keep these solar and wind going and workable at all. Large companies making those claims are playing shell games with the truth, in my view.

          • I have not heard about any negative environmental impacts of the mountaintop wind resource corridor that stretches from PA down thru MD thru WV. Of course, that is no guarantee.

            This onshore wind development is where many northeast/RGGI states are getting their green energy. Residents and presumably business can opt to buy it, and it is not high cost.

            I figure beats $25 billion for Va. offshore wind.

        • I think Google claimed to be carbon neutral rather than free. They claim they have purchased enough carbon offsets and renewable energy to be able to say they’ve been carbon neutral since 2007. Not sure if they are telling the truth or not but that’s the basis of their claim.

      • I figure businesses Walmart etc want to say they are using 100% renewables, so let them say so. I assume more onshore wind turbines can be built. If you see the thousands of them along PA/MD/WV, somebody is buying the energy. It is not fake, and it is much cheaper than offshore wind.

  4. One thing I’ve wondered about and that is why a company like Google or Facebook wants to “buy” solar from some solar farm rather than installing solar on their own site. Why is that?

  5. Baconator with extra cheese

    The same reason most stores rent their space, companies lease vehicles, and solar farms usually rent the land…
    Risk management.
    You minimize upfront costs to keep that capital for quick growth, thus stock prices stay up. Corporations now are all about stock price today and not necessarily long term grounded growth.

    • Which is why… invest!

      I may be right about climate change, CO2, sea level rise, etc., or I may be all wrong, but that’s no reason not to make money off of the forces I cannot control.

  6. The move to renewables has many issues that must be addressed as the author suggested. Producing energy has always had an impact on land use, the environment, property rights, rural residents, energy costs, and often disproportionate effects on low-income or minority groups, etc. Cradle to cradle design for easy reuse of heavy metals and rare-earth elements is important for new energy technologies and many other types of electronic devices.

    Distributed energy, especially with solar, has the potential to lower energy costs and reduce impacts when developed at industrial sites, commercial buildings, multi-family dwellings (such as apartments & condos), residences and community solar installations. Development in previously disrupted areas will reduce impacts and costs and increase system reliability when placed within the distribution system.

    However, this threatens the utility business model in Virginia, which is why Dominion seized control of the Virginia Clean Economy Act to give it legal authority over the development of the most of the future wind and solar resources in the state.

    When compared solely on a cost/kW basis for the cost of a facility, larger installations cost less than smaller ones. But this usually excludes the cost of transmission (which is another profit center for the utility) and other factors and is not typically stated as the ultimate cost to ratepayers.

    For example, a utility-scale solar project built by an independent developer for $X and sold via a power purchase agreement to a utility would require the customers to repay the utility Y cents/kWh for that energy (similar to a fuel cost).

    Dominion wants to own that facility, by repaying the developer for their costs, financing expenses and profit, let’s say it is $X. Dominion would then add that cost, their own cost of refinancing the project, and profit – resulting in a total of about $X+ 1.3 X or 2.3X (net present value) that must be repaid by the ratepayers over the life of the project.

    Residential and commercial customers could save money by purchasing, leasing or having a PPA for a solar facility on their own property as long as the cost was equal to or less than their current cost per kWh. Allowing Dominion to own large-scale solar and wind facilities will result in decades of new rate adjustment clauses that will greatly increase their monthly bills with the same usage.

    Many other states have avoided this fate, but we don’t yet grasp how much our current regulatory scheme will add to the energy costs for families and businesses in Virginia. We are not yet able to consider reducing the size of the golden egg that we grant to our major utilities, even if granting them a fair, but smaller, return would benefit all of the rest of us and the state economy.

    Big box stores and other commercial and government buildings are perfect candidates for these new energy solutions, but the stores usually don’t own their buildings or parking areas which could be used to generate the solar output they need. New solutions are under development, but it appears the utilities are trying to forestall progress in this area to avoid losing a stream of profits.

  7. When you review roi for solar farms owned by state or local governments they like to claim the land is free. Also, the amortization of the batteries is often ignored.

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