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Virginia gets $156 million from EPA to expand access to solar power

A Dominion Energy solar farm in Sussex County. (Photo by Katherine Hafner)
A Dominion Energy solar farm in Sussex County. (Photo by Katherine Hafner)

Half of all households in Virginia will soon qualify for a new state program meant to expand access to solar power. 

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency recently awarded $156 million to the Virginia Department of Energy through a competitive grant program called Solar for All, out of $7 billion nationwide. 

It’s part of the Biden administration’s efforts to tackle climate change.

Virginia’s program will focus on helping low-income and disadvantaged communities access solar infrastructure like home panels and battery storage.

It’s not yet clear how exactly they’ll do so. Virginia Energy spokesperson Tarah Kesterson said the department’s still in contract negotiations with the EPA about the details.

But the goal is to add more solar to the grid via residential rooftops, including multi-family units, and community-scale solar projects. The latter, known as “shared solar,” allows local households to buy into larger projects nearby when it’s not possible to install their own.

Virginia’s General Assembly recently passed legislation to expand shared solar programs to Appalachian Power customers. Dominion Energy already offers shared solar after getting the authority several years ago.

Real estate developers can also seek the new grant money for larger projects like solar for community housing.

Kesterson said the Solar for All program aligns with Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s Virginia Energy Plan, which outlines an “all of the above” approach and emphasizes energy affordability.

The upfront costs of installing solar infrastructure can be steep, she said. But long-term, electricity from solar is cheaper.

“This opens that market up to people who may not have been able to afford this type of energy before, and also makes their overall energy payments much more affordable,” Kesterson said.

The new program mandates that projects result in at least 20% lifetime energy bill savings.

The federal funding will be available to Virginia over the next five years, with about half of the state’s households eligible to apply.

Virginia Energy plans to launch the program next year. Interested Virginians can check the department website for updates

The department is also still working to get other federally-funded climate projects up and running, including one that will offer rebates for households that invest in energy efficiency.

Katherine is WHRO’s climate and environment reporter. She came to WHRO from the Virginian-Pilot in 2022. Katherine is a California native who now lives in Norfolk and welcomes book recommendations, fun science facts and of course interesting environmental news.

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