In WV, Community Solar Gains Popularity Amid Rising Utility Bills

Nadia Ramlagan

Amid rising energy costs and inflation, energy advocates said they have seen a jump in interest in community solar.

Luanne McGovern, legislative chair and board member of the West Virginia Highlands Conservancy, explained community solar lets individuals, businesses and organizations buy a “share” in a community solar project and in turn, receive a credit on their monthly electric bill.

She explained community solar projects could potentially lower energy costs for residents and increase investment in the state, pointing to the companies eyeing West Virginia land for new solar farm infrastructure.

“Abandoned mine lands, closed-down power plants, lots of places where solar arrays could be built quite easily,” McGovern outlined.

At least 18 states nationwide have passed legislation changing how utilities are regulated in order to approve community solar. Two bills introduced by West Virginia state lawmakers this year, Senate Bill 627 and House Bill 2159, would have made it easier to implement community solar projects.

McGovern added for a variety of reasons, many people cannot install individual solar panels on their home.

“It might be where they’re located, they don’t have enough sunlight, there’s trees, maybe they rent,” McGovern noted. “Maybe they’re in a homeowner’s association that doesn’t allow solar panels, for a lot of reasons, people that want to have solar energy can’t have access at their home.”

According to the renewable-energy firm EnergySage, most community solar customers see savings ranging between 5% and 15% of their annual electricity costs. Critics countered solar farms take up space, and emphasized community solar users often are not eligible for state-based incentives.