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Green Energy Advocates Criticize Lack of State Incentives

One area businessman tries to lobby Richmond.

Kent Baake, founder and CEO of Continuum Solar, is part of a growing industry of small businesses looking to cash in on the green jobs movement.

And although Baake's company is based in Alexandria, he said 90 percent of the solar panel installations Continuum Solar facilitates are done in Maryland.

That's because state and local tax incentives make Maryland homeowners much more eager to install a solar panel system. It comes down to dollars and cents, Baake said.

"From an econcomic point of view, you'd have a quicker payback in Maryland," he said. "In Maryland, at both the state level and the counties, there are additional incentives that bring down the cost of the (solar) system. That's less money that comes out of the pocket."

A photovoltaic or solar cell system can cost $30,000 for a homeowner — and that system generally only contributes about 40 percent of the electricity the house needs to function. A federal tax credit allows homeowners in any state to deduct almost a third of the cost of the system from their tax bill. Other states, including Maryland, offer other incentives. Virginia does not.

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"There's demand. There's interest. But there's no incentive," Baake said. "That's why Virginia is behind the ball, and we're having so few installations going on."

Ken Hutcheson, founder and president of the Virginia Alternative and Renewable Energy Association, said the state is "near the bottom of the pack" in the race to switch to renewable sources of energy.

"Predominantly, (it is a) lack of policy drivers and incentives that you see in other states to encourage renewable development. Those policies and incentives don’t exist in Virginia," Hutcheson said.

A few years ago, Baake set out to change that. He became a registered lobbyist and has traveled to Richmond for four straight years to persuade lawmakers to create a state tax credit that would alleviate the cost of installing solar panels.

"A state-level tax incentive would help to reduce the upfront cost of the system would be most beneficial," Baake said.

In April, Gov. Bob McDonnell signed a bill designating Virginia the "energy capital of the East Coast," legislation that encourages the state to embrace and develop renewable sources of energy. But he recently vetoed the "," which would would have prevented community associations from banning solar panel installations in neighborhoods.

McDonnell's office did not return a call for comment about the veto.

Baake said state lawmakers are all talk but no walk. "There's absolutely no support for (the tax incentive). They're completely against it in every way," he said.

Susan Stillman, the assistant renewable energy chairwoman for the Sierra Club of Virginia, is disappointed that the "Solar Freedom Bill" was vetoed.

She said entrenched interests in traditional non-renewable sources of energy are partly to blame. Apathy is also a problem.

"Electricity is relatively cheap," Stillman said. "So people are happy."

Janet May 27, 2012 at 09:53 PM
Fantastic Journalism. Kudos to Patch for going above and beyond the usual running more press releases in local blogs to promote the status quo....burning more fossil fuel.
Jeff Miller May 28, 2012 at 02:36 PM
How arrogant to demand special subsidies for one form of energy. If these solar providers have good cost-effective energy products, they should be able to stand on their own merits, and to compete WITHOUT subsidies. The proposed solar tax subsidy would undoubtedly generate cash for a handful of solar panel providers and installers. That explains why they're lobbying for it. But millions of Va. taxpayers would be forced to pick up the tab. Consumers should be allowed to select their own energy sources, without government interference, mandates or subsidies.
John May 28, 2012 at 05:28 PM
Jeff Miller's reasoning is flawed because fossil fuels have spillover costs, namely air pollution that kills people, and global warming that kills people too. In essence a person with asthma is subsidizing the coal and petroleum industry with their life. Mountain top coal mining causes untold degradation of Virginia's water downstream of the mine. No one has the right to damage the public, but this is what our fossil fuel industry is doing. Let's not forget the $2 trillion spent on U.S. military in Iraq and Middle East to keep petroleum flowing in futile wars and deaths. We need to generate most if not all of our energy from domestic, renewable sources. No American soldiers should be dying for Exxon Mobil profits. We should both tax the carbon industry and immediately rebate that money back to industry, business, and consumers so that they can install solar, wind and geothermal in Virginia. We could produce HALF or more of VA electricity used through wind towers off the coast of Virginia Beach. Dominion Power is the monoply strangling solar and wind power. Other states are moving out, but VA is stuck in coal country. We could generate so many new jobs with solar and wind here in VA. Iowa produces 20% of its electricity from wind already and going to 30%.
Allie May 28, 2012 at 10:28 PM
Where is the Arlington Green Party and its candidate for County Board on this? The Green Party went along with Jay Fisette's citizen task force that didn't mention on-site renewable energy as an important option for creating thousands of jobs and greatly reducing pollution from burning fossil fuel for heat and electricity.
julie May 29, 2012 at 05:35 PM
Individual Green Party members are all for solar renewable energy. Green Party leadership is basically all talk

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