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As Utility Cost Burden Increases, WV Counties Look to Community Solar

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Interest in community solar is on the rise, as a greater share of West Virginians’ household incomes go toward utility bills.

Federal data show electricity rates are increasing in the Mountain State, and major utilities are proposing more rate hikes for next year.

Danny Chiotos, development manager for Chaberton Energy, explained community solar is emerging as an alternative.

“As a general rule, community solar generation subscriptions are subscribed to at a rate lower than the electricity that it is offsetting,” pointed out. “If you’re paying, say, 11 cents for your electricity now per kilowatt-hour, you can generally subscribe to a community solar facility at nine cents or 10 cents.”

Community solar lets individuals, businesses and organizations buy a “share” in community solar panels — usually anywhere between five and 60 acres per site — and in exchange, receive a credit on their monthly electric bill.

Two bills introduced by West Virginia state lawmakers this year, Senate Bill 627 and House Bill 2159, would have made it easier to implement community solar projects.

Critics say solar farms take up space, and point out community solar users often are not eligible for state-based incentives.

Chiotos countered that state-level legislation is needed to ensure companies providing community solar can do so cost effectively.

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“As a trend, we’re seeing that there’s increasing energy burden on homes,” Chiotos observed. “Community solar is the best way to reduce electric rates in the face of the quickest-rising electric rates in the country.”

At least 18 states nationwide have passed legislation changing how local utilities are regulated in order to approve community solar.

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