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Green Energy Advocates Criticize Lack of State Incentives

One local 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 is 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.

"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."

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