Renewable Resources and Your Cooperative|
Video: Solar Power and North Carolina's Electric Cooperatives
For many years now, French Broad Electric has been taking advantage of the "free fuel" the earth provides to assist in meeting our member's energy needs. Our long standing contract with the SouthEastern Power Administration (SEPA) has provided our members with low cost, reliable hydroelectric power. Our Cooperative owned and operated hydro facility on the French Broad river has been in operation since 1980 also supplying electricity to our customers to reduce our need for fossil fuel based generation. For the last three years, the Buncombe County landfill gas generator has been connected to our electric distribution system, adding millions of kilowatts to our system on an annual basis. Since 2007 when a North Carolina state law was passed that required utilities to have part of their generation sales derived from solar generation, over 100 member owned solar systems have been connected to our electrical grid. French Broad EMC will allow any residential or small commercial customer to connect their solar generation to the electrical grid with our generation rates.
In an effort to encourage more solar generation, as of October 1, 2015, solar generators can get 5.9 cents for each kilowatt they produce from French Broad EMC. If there system is 5kw or less, they can get an additional six cents per kilowatt from NC GreenPower.
As laws are possibly passed and solar panels become more affordable in the future, there are two major questions that have to be addressed to determine if solar power is a viable alternative to traditional generation, i.e nuclear, coal, and natural gas. First, who will provide the backup generation necessary to insure an uninterrupted supply of electrical energy?
Second, who will pay for the infrastructure necessary to transport the energy from the solar generating facilities to the end use consumer? Both questions come down to who will pay for the investments to ensure reliability while keeping rates low?
A key issue is that solar is only available for a few hours on sunny days. In the winter, French Broad EMC and other North Carolina utilities peak in the early morning hours before the sun comes up. In the summer French Broad EMC peaks in the late afternoon and early evening, after the sun has gone down. Solar is not producing during this time period, and as for now, there are no storage batteries capable of providing continuous energy. For every kW of solar panels there has to be another kW of conventional generation to insure no service interruption. What will back up solar generation that will only operate during the day—when it's sunny— and who will pay for it?
The second major hurdle to transporting solar power across the state is infrastructure. Every FBEMC member has made an investment, through their monthly electric bill and the equity it affords, in building and maintaining the cooperative's infrastructure--the transmission lines, substations, distribution power lines, meters, and even customer service and billing mechanisms needed to deliver generation from the power plant to the coop member. A "solar utility" without its own transmission and distribution system would rely on your infrastructure. How the use of other utility's infrastructure is paid for and what impact that use might have on system reliability must be answered.
All North Carolina cooperatives encourage the smart implementation of renewable energy. French Broad EMC has always been a leader in North Carolina when it comes to renewable energy. However, we have to be careful that winners and losers are not created with the wrong approach. Cooperatives have only two primary purposes; to provide reliable electric energy to our members, and to keep the cost for that energy as low as possible.
Solar Power: Frequently Asked Questions
Solar energy has received a lot of attention in the media in the last few months. As a result, French Broad EMC has received a number of questions about how cost effective solar arrays can be as a means of producing renewable energy or how much you can reduce your bill by installing solar generation. For anyone considering the purchase of solar panels, the following questions and answers to common questions should help.
Will French Broad EMC purchase power from me?:
Yes. Any residential or small commercial member can install a solar system and interconnect to our electric grid. Solar panels are connected directly back to French Broad EMC's power lines through a meter and transformer. Each kilowatt generated is recorded on the meter and the total is calculated each month. The member is sent a billing statement showing the generation amount along with a check.
What is Net Metering?:
The term we use for selling excess energy back to the utility from a solar system is "net metering". This term is used because each month's actual bill is the difference between the energy generated and purchased from a utility company, at the current residential retail rate.
How much energy can I expect to create from my solar panels?:
Energy production depends on the size and efficiency of the panels and where and how they are installed. According to www.findsolar.com, you could install a 5 kw system at an approximate installed cost of $25,000. This system would generate around 500 kilowatts on average each month.
How much money can I generate with a solar system and what is the payback?
Several factors play into the overall return on a solar array. Cost of the system, tax incentives, Renewable energy credits, kilowatt hour cost, size and location of the system all play a role in the overall return on your investment. A 5 Kw system costing $25,000 would currently be eligible for a 30% federal tax credit as well as a North Carolina state tax credit. Assuming you generate 500 kilowatts on average each month, you could recover about $700 annually from FBEMC and NCGreenPower rates.
How much energy is French Broad EMC currently buying from its renewable generation customers?
There are nearly one hundred FBEMC member owned renewable energy generation sites generating 725,000 kilowatt hours of electricity per year. This is equivalent to the amount of power used by 80 homes. The Capitola Hydro plant in Marshall and the Buncombe County Landfill are not included in these numbers.
If I want to put in a solar system, what should I do first?
Contact French Broad EMC for a consultation. Our energy services experts can provide you with monthly, daily, and hourly usage data to help you understand your electrical usage requirements. We can also help you determine if you might see a better payback by investing in energy efficiency and conservation measures. You also need to complete the distributed generation application and interconnection agreements. It contains detailed information on the requirements to safely operate a solar panel that is connected to French Broad EMC's distribution system.
Are there other ways I can make a difference in the environment?
Sure. NCGreenPower lets you purchase a 100 kWh blocks of Green-e certified energy. You can purchase one or as many as you want. For as little as $4 a month, you can help NC GreenPower build up the supply of green energy. Your $4 contribution each month will add one block of 100 kilowatt-hours of green power to the North Carolina power grid. This is also considered a tax –deductible donation. Click here for more information about this program.