RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — A Virginia regulatory agency has approved two community solar power programs that will allow Virginians to “subscribe” to solar panel facilities across the commonwealth.

The first program, called the shared solar program, will allow Virginia residents to pay a subscription fee to companies operating solar facilities anywhere in the state in return for credits against their energy bill. The subscriptions can be for various amounts of energy, depending on the plan, and Dominion will give the subscriber a credit equivalent to the retail value of the energy they purchased.

A study by the U.S. Energy Information Administration found that in 2020, photovoltaic solar — that is, conventional solar panels — were the cheapest of all energy sources, followed closely by onshore wind turbines. That means that subscribers to solar facilities may save money if solar electricity remains cheaper than market rates for power in Virginia.

The second program applies only to solar panels built on or next to apartment buildings, which residents of those buildings can subscribe to in much the same way.

While both programs were supported by Dominion Energy, advocates called on the SCC to expand consumer protections and limit the charges Dominion could piggyback onto the programs.

Under the final version approved by the SCC Thursday, Dominion can establish a “minimum bill” intended to cover the cost of carrying the solar energy on their power lines. That means that even if customers pay for enough solar energy to cover all of their use for a month, they’ll still have to pay Dominion “to ensure [these] customers pay a fair share of the costs of providing electric services.”

Low-income residents, however, will be exempt from that minimum charge, and so could potentially eliminate their Dominion bills altogether through the program.

The commission also rejected a request by advocates that Dominion be required to show solar customers how their bill was calculated, meaning that residents could face difficulties verifying the amount they save through the solar credit.