There is little disagreement as to the need to convert our power supply to clean, renewable sources of energy such as wind and solar. Combine this with savings from energy efficiency efforts (the lowest-hanging fruit). Given the rapidly declining cost of these clean and renewable energy systems, and updated information that climate change is occurring at an even faster pace than previously thought, we must act with renewed urgency.
The problem often is not what to do, but how to do it. Clearly, gas is less carbon intensive, less expensive and therefore preferable to coal, but it is still a greenhouse gas that an increasing number of Virginians are beginning to reject. Solar is cheaper than wind, but it is hard to find space.
The good news is that nuclear energy provides 40% of Virginia’s electricity and does not create greenhouse gases. Nonetheless, many Virginians are uncomfortable with the potential danger of a nuclear disaster.
So, what is the energy path forward? For me, there is a third way that does not demand so many huge utility-scale renewable projects or continued investment in pipelines and the use of fossil fuels. This third way consists of Dominion Energy, or some other private business entity, engaging in the home installation of solar in an entirely new way.
Why can’t we install solar in a linear fashion the same way cable companies install cable TV and internet services? Dominion’s sales force can do this one street and neighborhood at a time, convincing homeowners to install solar by demonstrating the benefits of battery backup, electric car hookups and easy payment on their electric bill. What are the advantages? Many:
- Installation and financing costs would go down with the buying power inherent in a large corporate effort such as this. Homeowners could sell unused electricity back to the power company.
- What better way to bring progressives and conservatives together? Progressives want clean air and a solution to climate change. Conservatives want self-reliance and independence. Both groups would like less expensive power and each group’s values and world view would be validated. Farmland could be spared and kept green.
- For efficiency, installers could leave their equipment and supplies in place and keep moving down the street. No need to stage workers out of remote warehouses to distant work sites. The on-site production line could be resupplied into on-site trailers.
- The billing infrastructure already is in place and could be enhanced with planned installation of smart meters. Electric bills could inform residents about the kilowatts they are using and saving, as well as the projected timeline for paying off the investment.
- Our nation’s power supply would be diversified and less subject to cyber threats or natural disasters.
- Estimates suggest that homes equipped with this system would increase in value by $10,000 to $20,000.
- Saving our farmland and open space.
So why aren’t more homeowners investing in solar? I think it might be a marketing problem. Is it a smart move? How long before I regain my investment? Am I getting a good price? When there is uncertainty and anxiety around choice, people tend to avoid decisions.
But having the comfort of neighbors making the same judgment and seeing how other neighborhoods are managing with their new solar energy equipment could create greater comfort and increased certainty.
The responses I have gotten from Dominion have been consistent for years: “Interesting idea, Dave, but we are a few years away from that.” It’s been a few years now, and in all fairness, Dominion — while late to the game — has made progress in creating renewable energy and in planning for more. But they are stuck on utility-scale power generation, as it is the game they know and have thrived in. Businesses tend to stick with what has worked for them in the past.
Dominion is a well-operated company that exists in an ambiguous environment where the law mandates they do what is in the best interest of ratepayers, while they also are obligated to make money for their shareholders as a publicly traded corporation.
We need to clarify to Dominion or any energy company exactly what we need and expect from them. I want to give them clear direction and create a path toward a new business model for them, or any other entrepreneurial firm, that will help get us off fossil fuels and prevent my neighborhood in Fairfax County from becoming a coastal community.
Creating state and federal incentives for such a business model that promotes advantages for homeowners while allowing a company like Dominion to diversify its business and truly engage in practices that are in the best interest of the public can be an attractive solution. Let’s start thinking of creative ways to get us out of our current conundrum and move to a 21st-century energy system.