Something new under the sun
Interested in solar power but don’t have room in your yard or roof?
Here’s a new option: Purchase the solar energy from one of 50 panels that the Runestone Electric Association (REA) is building.
REA is among the first wave of cooperatives that’s plugging into this new energy option called “community solar.”
REA plans to build a 20 kilowatt solar array this summer at its new location in southwest Alexandria between Highway 29 South and its office off County Road 28.
Each of the 410-watt panels, manufactured by the Minnesota company tenKsolar, will be about six and half feet long by four and a half feet wide and will stand about five and a half feet off the ground.
REA’s power supplier, Great River Energy, is also building an array that will mirror REA’s, according to Rick Banke, REA CEO.
REA members will be allowed to purchase the rights to the output of up to five panels. The cost is $1,300 per panel.
Once the 50 panels are purchased, there won’t be any more available, at least for the foreseeable future.
In return, REA members will receive an energy credit on their bill each month for the next 20 years. The amount of the credit will be 1/50th of the total monthly production of the 50-panel array.
The estimated annual output is 530 kilowatt-hours (kWh) per panel. The actual amount will vary from month to month and season to season, according to Ryan Rooney, REA manager of business development and energy management.
At 2014 rates, the 530-kWh would be equivalent to reducing a member’s electric bill about $5 a month. Assuming that the cost of electricity continues to increase over the next 20 years, the value of the kWh would increase as well.
Each member will need to individually determine the cost/benefit of the investment, Banke said.
The solar array will be interconnected with the electric grid so the output will go directly into REA’s distribution wires, Banke said.
REA leaders aren’t sure how many members will take advantage of this new solar option but they know that the option has already created some buzz.
“We’re excited about it,” said Banke. “Members have been asking for this so we know there is interest out there. … This is a cost competitive way to get involved in a solar project without doing it yourself.”
One of the big advantages of community solar is that it allows members to directly receive the benefit of solar power without the hassles of installing panels on their roof or yard. “No maintenance or replacement worries,” said Banke.
The sign-up period will begin on April 13. Cash or checks will be accepted and financing plans are also available. Interested REA members should call (320) 762-1121, stop in the REA office for more information or visit the website, www.runestoneelectric.com.
NO SUBSIDIES FROM OTHER REA MEMBERS
Included in the $1,300 per panel cost is REA’s lost gross margin on each credited kilowatt hour. Because each member who pays $1,300 will receive an energy credit, REA will lose some net revenue on that energy for 20 years. To avoid a subsidy from those who don’t buy a panel to those who do, the panel price includes that revenue loss. “Not everyone can afford $1,300 and those who can’t or choose not to purchase should not subsidize those who can,” said REA CEO Rick Banke. “It really keeps things fair.”
COMMUNITY SOLAR AT A GLANCE
REA leaders say community solar is a convenient and cost-effective way to participate in renewable energy. Here are the main points:
• Available only to current REA members.
• Sign-up begins on Monday, April 13.
• To participate, a member must purchase at least 450 kilowatt hours of electricity from REA per year.
• Participants will receive an energy credit on their monthly electric bill.
• The cost is $1,300 per panel, which covers the cost of the project, insurance, maintenance and replacement parts.
• Purchasing a panel can be viewed as a hedge against future rate increases.