Powered by Facts looks to promote solar, protect ratepayers

By Ben Delman on March 22, 2017
Solar array in a field

Virginia’s growing community of solar supporters is bolstered by many organizations across the state fighting for fairer policies around solar. One such group is Powered by Facts.

The group formed out of founder Karen Schaufeld’s own experience trying to go solar. In the early 2010s, she wanted to install a ground-mounted array on her property. Dominion, her utility, would not let her offset the electricity produced by the system because it was not connected to any structure on her property. “When I’m confronted with a rule that I don’t think makes sense, I’m compelled to ask ‘why’,” Schaufeld said.

Powered by Facts' Karen Schaufeld
Powered by Facts’ Karen Schaufeld

Her questions led her to work with a bi-partisan group of lawmakers to change Virginia law to allow for aggregate net metering. Passed in 2013, this allows farmers like Schaufeld to generate solar on their land without a physical attachment to a building and aggregate solar production to multiple meters for the process of billing. Schaufeld has since had a larger system built on her property.

Schaufeld’s work to go solar on her own inspired her to educate others. “We felt our job was to educate the ratepayer,” Schaufeld said. “We all use electricity, we need to know where it comes from and what the incentives are around it. There were a lot of incentives for utilities that went the wrong way.”

Powered by Facts works to educate Virginians about energy production and consumption in the state. “When we formed two years ago, we saw where we should be going,” Schaufeld said. “Putting in a significant amount of solar was actually a ratepayer benefit.” Schaufeld cited renewable energy’s declining costs and benefits to grid stability as reasons solar benefits all consumers.

Education is only one part of Powered by Facts’ work. It also supports legislative changes to lower barriers to solar. Schaufeld notes not only is Virginia behind its neighbors when it comes to supporting solar, it also has several laws in place which actively make it harder for Virginians to go solar.

With this in mind, Powered by Facts went into mediation last year with several other energy stakeholders, including utilities and solar industry members, to work through some of these barriers.

Out of this mediation came a series of bills that changed the rules around going solar in Virginia. Many solar advocates have expressed concern about SB 1394 in particular. They worry about the bill’s end to aggregate net metering in electric co-op territory and that the addition of solar from agricultural sources may impact other Virginians’ ability to go solar by bumping up against Virginia’s 1% net metering cap.

Schaufeld calls that concern “shortsighted”. “The three bills that came out of the mediation this year are part of a longer term mediation that will take a number of years,” Schaufeld said. She believes the issue of the 1% net metering cap will be a strong focus of future mediation.

“We’re taking as many steps as we can as fast as we can to push this forward and change the ecosystem around solar,” Schaufeld said. We’re working towards it.”

To learn more about Powered by Facts, visit: http://poweredbyfacts.com