Dominion rolls out solar purchase program

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Sigora Solar employees install solar panels on a commercial roof. Founder Andy Bindea says Dominion Power’s new solar purchase program could be a boon for customers. Photo: Sigora Solar. Sigora Solar employees install solar panels on a commercial roof. Founder Andy Bindea says Dominion Power’s new solar purchase program could be a boon for customers. Photo: Sigora Solar.

Dominion Virginia is wading into the renewable energy credit market, and it’s offering its customers a way to cash in.

Andy Bindea, co-founder of Waynesboro-based residential and commercial solar installation company Sigora Solar, said Dominion’s new solar power purchase program, launched June 20, is a big step for sustainable energy in the Commonwealth. The power giant will be buying power from customers at a premium, he explained, “so the system gets paid off faster, and the return on investment percentage is higher. It makes the solar energy system a whole lot more attractive.” And that’s good for customers, the planet, and companies like his.

Until now, something called “net metering” was the only option for Dominion customers looking to save by going solar, said Bindea, who created Sigora in 2011 with leftover funds from his Piedmont Virginia Community College engineering scholarship. Under the old setup, said Bindea, “if the consumption is less than the production, the excess goes back into the grid and the meter literally spins backwards and generates a credit, kilowatt hour for kilowatt hour.”

With the new approach, people with solar arrays will buy power as usual from Dominion for the standard rate of 10.5 cents per kilowatt hour. But they’ll also sell all the energy they produce back to the company for 15 cents per kilowatt hour, meaning if their production matches their consumption, they can make a tidy little profit —and ultimately make their solar installation more affordable. The company has agreed to lock into the rate with participating customers for five years.

Sigora estimates the average-sized Virginia household consuming an average of 6,038kwh per person over the life of the program could generate about $3,600.

So why is Dominion selling low and buying high? The idea, said Bindea, is to encourage the creation of a network of mini rooftop power plants, which all generate not just electricity, but renewable energy credits, or RECs.

“A REC is basically the bragging rights that get attached to a bucket of energy,” said Bindea. A whole mini-economy has sprung up around the sale and trade of credits, which power companies can purchase to offset dirtier energy production, so those bragging rights are valuable enough that Dominion is willing to buy customer-produced buckets of solar at a premium so it can claim the RECs that come along with them.

If that seems like a convoluted and confusing way to ramp up green power use, Bindea says he hears you. He also pointed out that Dominion is taking a small first step. It’s only committed to doing three megawatts worth of purchasing, and admission into the program is on a first-come, first-served basis.

“It’s far from perfect, and we wish we’d see a whole lot more involvement from the state, but this is a step in the right direction,” he said. “If we look at it from an environmental standpoint, every single kilowatt hour that gets produced from a renewable energy source versus coal that gets mined from a mountain is a step forward. We keep pushing them in the right direction, and we’re going to get somewhere eventually.”

“It makes the solar energy system a whole lot more attractive,” said Sigora Solar founder Andy Bindea.