Saturday, February 18, 2012

Solar Project Caught in Legal Shadows

Fossil fuels are expensive, expensive to keep clean and undependable. It doesn't take a lot of brain power to see the world will need to change its ways of heating the homes and fueling motor vehicles before too long. Alternative fuel sources are the answer — it makes a great bumper-sticker line for politicians — but the reality is thorny and complicated.

That's what the owners of the local company Secure Futures discovered when they promoted their solar energy business. From most corners, it looked as though they were doing well. They had customers and the know-how and equipment to install solar equipment to help Washington and Lee University save money and meet sustainability goals.

Then the thorny part. Dominion Virginia Power cried foul. The project didn't comply with state law, Dominion officials said. The crux of the argument is that the large energy company, let's call it Goliath, says the State Corporation Commission regulations require a third-party power supplier meet 100 percent of its customers needs with renewable energy, while the more David-like Secure Futures interprets the law to say that 100 percent of the third-party supplier's energy is from a renewable source.

Got that? Yeah, it's confusing.

And until the regulations are clarified, an aggressive, enterpreneurial company is hog-tied. Oh, the project goes forward. To keep from being sued, Secure Futures rents the equipment to W&L which uses it to generate its own power. But the company misses out on federal tax incentives that make the whole business viable.

We are going to have start taking companies like Secure Futures seriously and give them what they need to make a difference. That means making regulations that work for both the Goliaths and the Davids of the energy world.

It won't be easy while the Goliaths have the money and the lobbyists to sway legislators. However, if we all remember that clean energy and small companies will help the world last longer and keep it going, doing the right thing should be a little easier to do.


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