More than 100 solar supporters from across the Commonwealth joined together to enjoy a beautifully sunny fall day on Sunday, October 28 for the 3rd Annual Virginia Solar Congress at George Mason University. The free event brought together longtime solar advocates, solar homeowners, and newcomers just finding out about solar in their communities for a full day of learning, sharing, and discussion about the present and future of solar power in Virginia.
Solar United Neighbors of Virginia Program Director Aaron Sutch kicked things off with opening remarks, discussing the state of solar in Virginia and setting the table for the day to come. And what a day it was—jam packed with a program covering everything from the basics of solar energy technology; to more advanced technical subjects like the benefits of combining solar panels with battery storage; to a discussion of grassroots solar advocacy around Virignia; to a deep dive into expected solar policy fights coming in 2019.
The day’s first session included a panel discussion about the solar policy landscape in Virginia and a diverse array of experts offering their perspective on the best next steps for solar supporters looking to fight for solar rights. An all-star panel of the Sierra Club’s Ivy Main, Advanced Energy Economy’s Harry Godfrey, Southern Environmental Law Center’s Hannah Coman, Vote Solar’s Thad Culley, and the Virginia Solar Energy Development and Energy Storage Authority’s Cliona Robb each shared their perspectives on what solar policies are on the horizon for 2019, and where solar advocacy in Virginia might go in the future.
The first session also included a Solar 101 presentation about the basics of solar technology and financing, as well as an overview George Mason’s work in the energy sector and climate change featuring Colin Nackerman, Climate Program Specialist from GMU Center for Climate Change Communication; Jennifer Sklarew, Professor from Department of Environmental Science and Policy; and Paul Houser, Co-Director of the Center for Energy Science and Policy.
The day continued with a second presentation session featuring two concurrent panels. Aaron Sutch from Solar United Neighbors and Scott Sklar of the Stella Group offered a presentation about combining a solar system with battery storage for homes and businesses, answering questions about the basics on technology and financing for this emerging market. At the same time, a group of rockstar local activists shared their insights on how solar supporters can make change in their community. Erik Curren, the Solar Patriot himself, led a panel discussion featuring Karen Torrent from Torrent Consulting, Jeff Heie from Give Solar, and Doug Hendren of Renew Rocktown, both of whom are leading efforts to expand solar access in the Harrisonburg area.
Three more concurrent presentations deepened the interest of participants after lunch. In one room, Alleyn Harned of Virginia Clean Cities discussed why electric vehicles and solar are a perfect match, while Chris Somers of Arlington County discussed municipal solar initiatives to advance solar in Arlington. Finally, Repower REC’s Mike Murphy discussed organizing in his rural electric cooperative. Rappahannock Electric Cooperative (REC) member-owners like Mike have joined together to build a pro-member, pro-co-op, and pro-democracy campaign to bring transparency and member control back to their co-op.
Finally, the day ended with an open plenary where Virginia Solar Congress participants could synthesize all the information from the day while openly discussing what they learned and how they hope the solar community in Virginia will continue to advance.
Thank you to everyone who joined us for this exciting event and thank you to our hosts at the George Mason University Center for Energy Science and Policy. The 3rd Annual Virginia Solar Congress was a great success—and we’re already looking forward to next year!