[Click here for the latest on the Dakota Access Pipeline: 141 Arrested During Police Raid of Camp Halting Construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline.]
Actor Mark Ruffalo and Native Renewables founder Wahleah Johns presented Standing Rock Sioux tribal elders with mobile solar panels on trailers, bringing clean power to the protest encampment where the largest gathering of Native Americans in modern history is taking a stand against the Dakota Access Pipeline.
Jon WankThe Solutions Project
"This pipeline is a black snake that traverses four states and 200 waterways with fracked Bakken oil," said Ruffalo, co-founder of The Solutions Project, which works to accelerate the transition to 100 percent clean and renewable energy.
"We know from experience that pipelines leak, explode, pollute and poison land and water. But it doesn't have to be that way."
220 'Significant' Pipeline Spills Already This Year via @EcoWatch https://t.co/dEhJqaEW9T @pstrust @waterkeepersCP— Dan Zukowski (@Dan Zukowski)1477421124.0
The solar trailers will provide clean energy to power medical tents and other critical facilities for Native American protesters and their allies at the encampment. The trailers symbolize a healthy, equitable, prosperous energy future made possible by clean renewable energy.
"Water is life," said Johns, a Navajo leader. "By leading a transition to energy that is powered by the sun, the wind and water, we ensure a better future for all of our people and for future generations."
Johns' company, Native Renewables, promotes low-cost clean energy solutions for Native American families throughout the U.S., with an emphasis on job creation and on benefiting the community as a whole. The trailers were built by members of the Navajo nation and were financed by Empowered by Light and Give Power.
[email protected]: First Amendment Rights Must B Protected 4 Those Peacefully Opposing #DakotaAccessPipeline https://t.co/OoafzYlvJT @markruffalo— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1477510960.0
Research led by Stanford Prof. Mark Jacobson, another Solutions Project co-founder, shows that it would be technically possible and economically beneficial to transition to 100 percent clean renewable energy in each and every state across the country. In North Dakota, for example, wind and solar energy would be the primary sources of clean power and transitioning to 100 percent renewables would create 30,000 jobs.
The Standing Rock Sioux tribe says it was not sufficiently consulted when the Dakota Access Pipeline was in the planning stages. The pipeline endangers the tribe's water supply—and the water supply of millions of other people, as well, given the pipeline's planned crossing under the Missouri River. The pipeline's construction has already marred sacred lands, including burial sites. The Standing Rock Sioux and their allies—including indigenous people from across the U.S. and around the world—see it as a clear threat to both the tribe's cultural heritage and the basic human right to clean water.
"Around the world, more than 80 percent of the forests and lands with protected waterways and rich biodiversity are held by indigenous tribes. This is no coincidence," Ruffalo said. "As so many of us suffer from polluted water, air and land in our rural and urban communities, the water defenders at Standing Rock are showing us another way."
One year after establishing itself as a climate and clean energy funder, The Solutions Project is launching the Fighter Fund, a new grant-making program for community-based groups on the front lines of the fight for clean energy and climate justice. The Fighter Fund is designed to be a highly responsive source of money that invests in change makers as change is happening. Plans call for the Fighter Fund to respond to most applicants' requests in a matter of days, instead of the months traditional philanthropic funding decisions can often take.
Mark Ruffalo and Leonardo DiCaprio at an event hosted by The Solutions Project. Kelly Taub / BFA.com
"Often philanthropy can't keep up with what's happening on the ground," said Tyler Nickerson, director of investments and state strategy at The Solutions Project, a national nonprofit organization dedicated to 100 percent clean energy for all. "The Fighter Fund is designed to make small grants at key movement moments so that homegrown, frontline groups working with regular people from Alaska to Alabama to Alberta can empower and mobilize communities."
The grants, topping out at $15,000 each, will be available on a rolling basis to nonprofits throughout the U.S., Mexico and Canada. Groups are encouraged to apply when this money would make a tangible difference in their work.
"If we want real change—a sunlight revolution—we have to support fighters on the front lines," said The Solutions Project Co-Founder Mark Ruffalo, who came up with the idea and the name for the Fighter Fund and recruited his fellow actor Leonardo DiCaprio and other donors to co-fund the effort.
"I'm excited about this innovation in clean energy philanthropy. We're creating a nimble source of funding that sends money where it's needed, when it's needed, to support bold action, collaboration and leadership in communities across the continent."
Examples of occasions when nonprofits could successfully apply for funding include:
- Direct actions or organizing that support a transition to 100 percent clean energy or keeping fossil fuels in the ground;
- Communications, earned media or new media that builds public will and cultural power for the energy transition; and
- Movement-building actions such as planning, convening and training activities.
The Fighter Fund grew out of The Solutions Project's first year of grant making through the 100% Leadership Fund, which so far has invested nearly $1 million supporting nonprofits working for clean energy in the states of Iowa, New York and California.
"The 100% Leadership Fund involves bigger investments and longer-term commitments to organizations across the country," Nickerson said. "But we need to be able to move money faster and more strategically to keep pace with what is going on with the climate justice movement. The Fighter Fund allows us to do that—and to make riskier frontline bets."
Earlier this year, 100% Leadership Fund grants went to Iowa groups involved in working on that state's astonishing progress in wind energy. Iowa now gets more than 31 percent of its electricity from wind power and Gov. Terry Branstad, a Republican, is calling for Iowa to hit 40 percent wind power in the next five years.
Most recently, The Solutions Project announced fresh 100% Leadership grants to groups working for policies that advance clean energy in the state of New York. As part of the NY Renews coalition, they launched an effort to make New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo's ambitious clean energy targets—including 50 percent renewable energy by 2030, which is one of the country's most ambitious clean-energy goals—first benefit working families. In June, the coalition cheered as the New York Assembly passed the nation's most ambitious climate bill, requiring that greenhouse gas emissions from major sources fall to zero by 2050 while safeguarding economic and environmental justice.
Our Fighter Fund is ready to support frontline fighters. Spread the word 100%. https://t.co/F3kEoP60IC https://t.co/dUoHBjh4KF— Solutions Project (@Solutions Project)1471457747.0
"A year after establishing The Solutions Project as a climate and clean energy funder, we are excited to add this new grant program to our portfolio of work," said Sarah Shanley Hope, The Solutions Project's executive director.
"We take a hybrid approach: We inspire action through our 100% campaign, while also providing direct financial support to grassroots organizations across the country. To achieve 100 percent clean energy for 100 percent of the people, we must all give our 100 percent. We know these investments will help get us there."
The 100% Leadership Fund and the Fighter Fund are generously supported by the Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation, Sara & Evan Williams Foundation, JPB Foundation and Franciscan Sisters of Mary.
When you think of states that have made a heavy investment in solar energy, Virginia may not be at the top of your list. Yet in recent years, Virginians have made a massive amount of progress; in 2019, the state was ranked No. 19 in the country for solar installation, and in 2020 it jumped to No. 4.
But what are the top cities for solar in Virginia? We've done some digging and come up with a comprehensive list.
Top 10 Cities for Solar in Virginia
When narrowing down the top cities for solar in Virginia, EcoWatch took into consideration solar power generation data from the Energy Information Institute, maps on solar irradiance and potential from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, local government websites and Environment America's latest Shining Cities report.
Based on this information, the top cities for solar in Virginia are as follows:
- Virginia Beach
- Newport News
Virginia's capital city ranks first in the state and 49th in the nation for total solar PV installations. According to the Shining Cities report, there are over 22 watts of solar installed per person in Richmond.
2. Virginia Beach
Although Virginia Beach is better-known for its large offshore wind energy farm, the popular tourist destination ranks second in Virginia and 61st in the nation for total solar PV installations. There are currently over five watts installed per person, per the Shining Cities report.
Alexandria earned a SolSmart Gold designation in July 2020, which is the highest designation given by the program. The city also boasts an impressive portfolio of new and promising renewable energy programs, solar feasibility studies and more.
NREL's Solar for All maps show that Norfolk boasts one of the highest potentials for solar energy generation and roof-mount capacity. Major corporations have already adopted solar in the area — the IKEA store in Norfolk even features a 180,000-square-foot solar array.
In 2012, Roanoke participated in the U.S. Department of Energy's Better Buildings Challenge with the goal of curbing energy use by 20% across 1 million square feet of building space by 2022. In 2018, Roanoke achieved that goal with a 23% energy reduction. The city remains committed to clean energy, as evidenced by its impressive Solarize Roanoke project.
Fairfax has also been designated a SolSmart Gold city and has its own Solarize Fairfax County initiative. This project, which gives residents access to free solar assessments, bulk-purchasing discounts, discounted solar batteries and more, has concluded for the 2021 season but may well return in 2022.
In addition to a city-specific solar tax credit and a Solarize Charlottesville program, the city has started putting solar panels on government buildings. Among the solarized buildings are Charlottesville High School, the City Facilities Maintenance Building and the ecoREMOD Energy House.
8. Newport News
This coastal city receives a lot of sunshine… some 215 days a year, in fact. It's no surprise, then, that NREL maps show a high capacity for rooftop solar and an above-average number of buildings suitable for solar.
According to NREL data, Danville has a high potential for rooftop solar capacity and generation, and the city is doing its part to help residents make the switch to clean energy. It has developed its own net metering program for residential solar installations up to 10 kW, as well as invested in two solar farms that are producing about 10 MW of energy to be used by Danville Utilities customers.
In March of 2014, Blacksburg became the first community in Virginia to launch a Solarize campaign, and NREL maps show it has a high potential for solar generation. This SolSmart Silver city offers many solar-focused resources for residents, including a solar panel installation checklist, information for those interested in solar jobs and guidance on solar access within the state.
Where Solar Panels Work Best
While there are many solar-smart cities in Virginia, some are better suited than others for PV installation. The best cities for solar include those that have:
- Decent sun exposure: Cities that get consistent year-round sunlight tend to be good places to invest in solar, hence the coastal communities we've included on our list.
- High local utility costs: Solar power tends to be more valuable in cities that have high electrical costs. More on that in a moment.
- Local rebates and incentives: Some cities make solar investment more attractive by implementing local net metering programs, tax rebates or other financial incentives.
Average Virginia Electricity Costs
As mentioned, residents in places with higher electricity costs stand to benefit more from installing solar panels. In Virginia, the average monthly electrical consumption is 1,122 kWh, which is roughly on par with nearby states such as South Carolina and West Virginia, though a bit higher than in Maryland or Washington, D.C. The average monthly electric bill is $135.46, which is on the high side compared to most neighboring states.
Virginia Solar Tax Incentives
Homeowners in Virginia can take advantage of a few solar tax exemptions and incentives to help offset the cost of solar panels. For example, there is a property tax exemption, which means that although solar panels will increase the value of a home, they will not increase your property taxes. Virginia also has a state-wide net metering program, which means that any surplus energy generated by solar panels can be fed back into the electric grid in exchange for credits from your utility company.
Federal Solar Tax Credits
Homeowners in Virginia (and anywhere else in the country) can also claim a residential federal tax credit worth 26% of their total solar installation cost. This can offset the initial investment expenditure considerably, but keep in mind that this credit may be phased out by 2023 unless Congress acts swiftly to renew it.
Virginia Solar Regulations
There are a few laws that impact solar adoption in Virginia. Some notable examples include:
- The Solar Rights law protects the rights of homeowners to install solar panels, without being obstructed by their homeowners association or other community association. HOAs do have some leeway to regulate the aesthetics of solar installations, however.
- Virginia's Zero Carbon Bill will create more than 30,000 solar jobs by the year 2030.
- The Virginia Clean Economy Act is set to create a number of new incentives for homeowners to go solar. It also creates robust clean energy standards for utility companies and fines providers unable to meet those standards.
Final Thoughts: Top Cities for Solar in Virginia
Solar energy presents a valuable opportunity for homeowners to lower electric bills, reduce their impact on the environment and become less dependent on traditional utilities. However, in Virginia, some cities are more solar-forward than others. If you didn't see your city on this list (and even if you did), there are plenty of ways individuals can push for more solar power in their areas. Here are some ideas to get you started:
- Install solar panels on your home
- Educate your neighbors about the benefits of solar energy
- Reach out to your elected officials and urge them to set strict renewable energy goals