Solar moves south, but may not be economical

Published 1:03 am Friday, April 29, 2016

To use solar energy or not to use solar. That’s the question.

Ron Graham of PowerSouth presented a program to the Andalusia Lions Club this week on solar energy.

Solar power is energy from the sun that is converted into thermal or electrical energy.

It’s a renewable energy resource.

Graham said that the prime place for solar is the southwestern United States.

“Why is the solar movement coming to the southeast?” he asked. “The Southeast isn’t the best place, but it’s not the worst.”

Graham showed a map from the National Rural Electric Association that shows that South Carolina and Georgia are working on solar energy programs.

Graham said that South Carolina’s legislature has mandated that the state move to use 2 percent renewable energy.

“In Georgia the Public Service Commission issued a direction that says, ‘We want solar,’” he said. “They also said we don’t wind third parties coming in and putting solar.”

“If we were to install a generator 110 mega-watts capacity and at 85 percent capacity year round,” he said of solar energy.

Comparatively in Gantt, the Vann Plant can produce 600 mega watts in the winter, while the McWilliams Power Plant can produce 150 mega watts.

Alabama Power Co. is going to put 10 mega watts at Anniston and at Fort Rucker.

“Alabama Power has been approved to request proposals for up to 500 mega watts of solar,” Graham said. “That’s not to say they will use all that. It’s just saying ‘come to me with proposals.’”

Graham said it doesn’t have to necessarily be economical. A lot is driven by mandates.

Those who put in solar, can get a 30 percent tax credit, which was set to expire in December 2016.

Congress extended it through the Omnibus spending will. Through 2019 one will get 30 percent, while dwindles to 26 percent from Dec. 31, 2019 – Jan. 1, 2021. Then down to 22 percent for systems placed in service after Dec. 31, 2020 to Jan. 1, 2022.

According to the Alabama Power Co., website, a turn-key solar electric system equipped to produce enough power for the average home can be as much as $60,000.

Most families choose to purchase a solar energy system that supplements only a portion of the home’s energy consumption.

The average home in Alabama uses around 1,200 kilo-watt hours of electricity each month.

Graham said it costs roughly 17 cent per kilowatt hour for the solar.

“I don’t know what the city of Andalusia or Covington (Electric)’s retail rate is, but I guarantee you it’s less than 17 cents,” Graham said.

Graham said there has to be money to pay for the infrastructure.

While the consumption may decrease, the power company needs the same amount of money to maintain or be a back up when the solar doesn’t work.

“We call that back-up service,” he said. “It’s called cost-shifting. He’s shifting the cost to everyone because he’s consuming less.”

Graham said the lion’s share of the cost is the infrastructure to furnish enough energy.

“Everyone collectively pays for the system,” he said.

Additionally, the power company’s generator transports energy to the homes and if they purchase solar energy, their generator transmits it back to the grid.

“Really the only thing a person does is avoiding the fuel we are going to burn in that generator,” Graham said. “When I tell someone I’m only going to pay you my avoided cost, which is the fuel for the generator.”

Graham said it’s always been PowerSouth’s goal to be reliable and keep down the costs as much as possible.

Graham said that solar energy couldn’t run the whole system.

Graham referenced the polar vortex of 2014, when PowerSouth hit its peak at about 6:30 a.m.

Graham said the best time for solar here occurs in a small block from around 7:30 until the afternoon.

“It wasn’t producing at 6:30 in the morning,” he said. “We have to have the backup.”

“Will we take advantage of solar?” he said. “Absolutely. But it got to get to what our resources are costing. When it gets economic. We’ll do it.”

Graham said six of its member cooperatives are putting in 10-kilowatt panels for education purposes.