Governor signs clean energy legislation

Virginia is taking steps to become a bigger player in the solar energy game.

On Wednesday, Gov. Terry McAuliffe signed into law six individual pieces of legislation branded under the title of Clean Energy Jobs that are designed to expand industry in the commonwealth.

Secretary of Commerce and Trade Maurice Jones noted that the legislation package is designed to encourage job growth within a growing aspect of economic development across the United States.

He referred to the legislation as “great tools for [the state] to grow an industry that’s growing countrywide at a fairly rapid pace.”

The fourth quarter report from the Solar Energy Industries Association indicated that Photovoltaic installations — solar panels — increased by 29.8 percent combined across residential, commercial and additional uses.

To help the state “catch the wave,” as Jones put it, the legislation will create a Virginia Solar Development Authority.

“That authority is going to serve as a hub for public and private partnerships to stimulate the growth of the solar industry,” Jones said.

Jones added, “The idea there is that you would have an entity in state government that is singularly focused on growing the solar industry in the state. That’s gotta be the first time we’ve ever had that.”

Outside of the authority, the Clean Energy Jobs legislation also extends the Green Jobs Tax Credit through July 1, 2018.

According to the Virginia Department of Taxation, this credit affords $500 of income tax credit to organizations that create a job with taxable income of $50,000.

Jones noted that another aspect of the Clean Energy Jobs legislation, called Utility-Scale Solar,  “declares that generation 500 megawatts of solar energy is the public interest of Virginia.”

Gretchen Heal, legislative aid to Del. David Yancey who sponsored the Utility-Scale Solar aspect, noted that the legislation “should allow businesses, small companies in particular, to expand their offerings of solar to small businesses” as well as residents.

The website Solar Energy Industries Association has stated that a utility scale for a solar project “can provide the benefit of fixed-price electricity during peak demand periods.”

Heal said, “It’s hard to say how much stability it can give to the rates, because the demand is based on so many factors including temperature … the amount of sunny days.”

Heal added, “The intent of the focus of the bill was to expand an industry in Virginia that is behind Maryland and North Carolina.”

The legislation also will reportedly create more loan opportunities for localities through the state’s Property Assessed Clean Energy program (PACE).

“We want to have an energy sector that is diverse,” Jones said, noting that the state still wants to pursue traditional energy options such as nuclear and coal, as well as creating a “robust renewable sector.”

Contact staff writer Kevin Green at 540-465-5137 ext. 155, or kgreen@nvdaily.com