rss icon

Sunday, 28 April 2013 22:00

Utility co-op offers community-based approach to access solar energy

Written by 
Rate this item
(0 votes)
Crews work to install solar arrays at the Cherryland Electric Cooperative facility off U.S. 31 near Grawn. Co-op members can opt to buy a solar panel in the array at a cost of $470 per panel. The community-based initiative helps lower the cost barrier for people to adopt solar energy. Crews work to install solar arrays at the Cherryland Electric Cooperative facility off U.S. 31 near Grawn. Co-op members can opt to buy a solar panel in the array at a cost of $470 per panel. The community-based initiative helps lower the cost barrier for people to adopt solar energy. COURTESY PHOTO

TRAVERSE CITY — A Northern Michigan energy cooperative thinks it has a solution to lower cost barriers and help more people access renewable solar energy.

The project, known as the Solar Up North (SUN) Alliance Program, is an initiative of Cherryland Electric Cooperative that provides its members the opportunity to purchase solar power at a discounted rate.

The 33,000-member Cherryland hopes to address the cost barriers associated with solar through a community-based approach not tried elsewhere in the state.

The program essentially allows its members to buy “shares” on a per-panel basis in a solar array the co-op owns and maintains. Each panel costs $470, and members can buy as many panels as they want.

Co-op members who buy panels can claim a $75 per panel Energy Optimization rebate to ease the initial investment. Some customers can also qualify for an additional $75 rebate via their patronage capital credits, which are based on member equity in the co-op.

Rachel Johnson, the co-op’s grassroots advocate, said the community-based program makes solar energy available in a way that hasn’t been offered in Michigan before. The program helps meet the rising demand for alternative energy among the ranks of the co-op’s membership, and helps the utility meet its state mandated RPS goal, she said.

“We’re certainly not the first to do this. There are sites in Minnesota, Colorado and elsewhere that have done something like this,” Johnson said. “But we are hoping it’s a model that our other nine sister Michigan Electric Cooperative Associations could use.”

Cherryland initially came forward with a 48-panel offering, but the co-op quickly sold 80 panels and has plans to add two additional 72-panel arrays on the co-op’s property just off U.S. 31 in Grawn, just east of Chums Corners.

Members who purchase panels on a 25-year agreement can expect an estimated yearly credit of $25 on their bills, Johnson said.

Until now, if those customers wanted to install a solar renewable energy system, they had to overcome costly upfront expenditures associated with installation. From racking to wiring, solar arrays can cost thousands of dollars to set up, putting solar out of reach for many residents, not to mention they have to recoup those costs before ever realizing savings in their monthly utility bills.

The board of directors for Traverse City Light & Power last Tuesday approved an inter-utility partnership agreement with Cherryland that brings another 12,000 customers in the fold. TCL&P customers will also have the opportunity to claim an initial $75 rebate on the panels.

The amount of subsidy required to lower the initial cost of the panels and to reduce to payback period to approximately 20 years drew some concern from the TCL&P board members who spoke at the meeting.

The initial investment, which is roughly $250,000, is subject to a 30-percent federal tax credit under the government’s Sunshot initiative. Cadillac-based Spartan Renewable Energy Inc., a for-profit that sells renewable energy and renewable energy credits to utilities, will receive that credit.

A rate-setting hearing for TCL&P is scheduled for May 14.

“Our interim director and Cherryland’s general manager have been talking about this partnership since late last year,” said Jessica Wheaten, marketing and communication manager for TCL&P. “This is a unique partnership even nationwide, and we are confident it will be successful.”

Copemish-based firm Contractors Building Supply is providing the 300-kWh panels for the project, and company President Allan O’Shea is hopeful that municipal and co-op utility providers across the state can form similar programs.

O’Shea, who is also involved with the Great Lakes Renewable Energy Council, said he’s already received calls from other municipalities in Michigan who have expressed interest in a project like Cherryland’s.

“The approach is very innovative because it’s not compromising anyone and they aren’t penalizing anyone,” he said. “The most important thing is the members who don’t buy in won’t be paying any additional cost, which isn’t always the case with the larger utility projects.”

For rural and municipal communities, the program could open a lot of new doors for residents to purchase renewable power, O’Shea said. These are small opportunities, but they are a creative starting point for reducing the costs and risks associated with renewable power, he said.

Read 7211 times

Breaking News

September 2018
S M T W T F S
26 27 28 29 30 31 1
2 3 4 5 6 7 8
9 10 11 12 13 14 15
16 17 18 19 20 21 22
23 24 25 26 27 28 29
30 1 2 3 4 5 6

Follow MiBiz