West Virginia's renewable energy policies may be loosening up

West Virginia’s policies toward renewable energy sources have not been very accommodating in recent years, but that may be changing in the near future.

Small-scale solar systems have come a long way since the 1960s. And when they're tied to batteries and to the grid, they offer the convenience of utility service with the assurance of reliability.

"Just think if we had this in neighborhoods around the state," said Calhoun County solar owner and electricity policy observer and blogger Bill Howley. "We wouldn't have all these people running into gas stations when there are blackouts to get fuel for their generators — we wouldn't have all this pressure on emergency services and shelters."

Beyond ensuring reliability that utilities can't, home solar systems can also generate income, Howley pointed out. And a market for solar systems creates jobs and expertise in a forward-looking field.

However, even though there have been some signs of moving forward, the policies are still extremely limiting.

Howley registered his system on regional grid operator PJM Interconnection's GATS system. GATS supports REC markets by tracking the serial number and characteristics of each megawatt-hour of electricity that's generated.

He applied to Ohio, Pennsylvania and Washington, D.C., for certification that his system's RECs would be accepted in those jurisdictions. The process required one form that was available on the Internet, he said.

But it was more complicated when he applied for certification with the Public Service Commission of West Virginia under the state's 2009 Alternative and Renewable Energy Portfolio Standard. The AREPS aims to shift the state to 25 percent alternative and renewable sources by 2025.

Howley and nine other residential solar owners filed in 2011 for certification, the first to file in the state. Forms were not available online; each had to initiate a formal case filing.

The commission responded by asking the applicants to show, as required in its rules, that they had "revenue-quality" meters — the kind utilities use. When a petitioner pointed out that the GATS system, on which the PSC's rules are mostly based, does not require small generators to have such expensive meters and that its own rules are internally inconsistent, the commission then required applicants to provide further information about their meters and even about the rules in other states.

"It's an undue burden on innovators in West Virginia, having us provide information that no other state asks for,"  Howley said.

With the recent storms that have devastated West Virginia, there could be a rethinking of the policies that have made it difficult to add renewable energy sources to the power grid.

"I think we're learning from these storms that the matter may be somewhat more urgent than anyone has recognized," he said. "The world of ‘cheap' is over now because utilities are either going to be forced to invest in a real overhaul of the distribution system, or we're just going to be paying higher and higher rates based on the emergency cost."

To read the entire article, visit http://www.statejournal.com/story/20393899/state-could-make-reliability-of-home-solar-more-accessible