Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) on Aug. 29 commissioned Virginia’s first community solar project at the BARC Electric Cooperative facility in Rockbridge, Virginia.
BARC Electric has developed the first community solar project for residents in Rockbridge, Bath, Highland, Augusta and Alleghany Counties. Community solar allows customers in different locations to join together to get electricity from solar power generated at a single facility, rather than each customer having to install solar on their rooftops. BARC builds and maintains the system, allowing customers to avoid the upfront cost of installations and continued maintenance.
Such projects enable renters, low-income customers, and those with physical barriers, such as inadequate roof space or shading, to still utilize solar energy, according to a news release from the governor’s office.
In addition, BARC constructed an educational center at the facility to teach students and visitors about solar energy production, as well as provide a guided tour through the solar facility. The project was funded with a $500,000 Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC) grant through the state, and additional funding came through the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Rural Development.
“We are very proud to be the first power company in the commonwealth to offer community solar to our members, as well as the first to offer a hands-on learning experience to area schoolchildren at our solar learning center,” said BARC Electric CEO Mike Keyser.
The project will provide 25% of the energy needs for 212 homes and businesses across BARC’s entire electric system. More than 25 interested customers are currently on a waiting list for future expansion of the project. Subscribers to the project enjoy a fixed solar energy rate for 20 years, providing a hedge for a portion of their bill against rising energy prices. Additionally, 38% of all subscriber revenues will be set aside in a specially-earmarked fund for project expansion.
“We have initially limited subscriptions to 25% of a customer’s average monthly consumption in order to allow as many members as possible to take advantage of the project,” the electric cooperative said on its website. “We may increase the cap, but initially it is set at 25%.”
The monthly subscription rate is $4.95 per block of solar energy. This is only $1 per block more than what BARC Electric customers pay today. This rate only applies to initial subscribers. The $4.95/block rate is fixed for 20 years, provided that the ratepayer continuously remains a subscriber.
BARC Electric also has a net metering program, according to the cooperative’s website.
BARC is a customer-owned electric cooperative serving a population of approximately 30,000 across five Virginia counties (Rockbridge, Bath, Alleghany, Augusta, and Highland). With more than 2,000 miles of electric transmission and distribution line, and a service territory of 1,500 square miles, BARC serves a vast, mountainous region from the top of the Blue Ridge Mountains to the West Virginia border.