If the Department of Public Utilities developed a Community Solar Garden, how likely would you be to purchase or lease solar panels?
The Board of Public Utilities adopted the Future Energy Resource (FER) Committee recommendation for DPU to evaluate adding a community solar garden to the County's energy generation portfolio. Specifically, in the Future Electrical Energy Resources July 7, 2015 report, section 4.6.13., states "Evaluate feasibility, including market interest, for a community solar garden if bandwidth or other limits are not being approached by individual installations."
What is a Community Solar Garden?
A community solar garden is an array of photovoltaic panels with multiple subscribers. The subscribers may purchase or lease one or more photovoltaic panels in the array, rather than installing a photovoltaic system at their home. Currently DPU is looking to replace its net metering program with a value-of-solar tariff at the direction of the BPU. Subscribers would be able to sell power back to the DPU just as is if the panels were installed at their home, according to the adopted DPU rate structure. The form that this program will take (either net metering or a value-of-solar tariff or other program) will ultimately be decided by the BPU and County Council. The advantages of a solar garden are that customers who live in areas that are not conducive to solar systems (such as apartments or homes shaded by trees) can still take advantage of solar power. Additionally, customers can move to another location in the County and the ownership will follow them.
What is net metering and value-of-solar tariffs?
Net metering and value-of-solar tariffs are just some of the many billing mechanisms that utility providers use to compensate customers with photovoltaic systems that generate surplus electricity that is delivered onto the electric distribution grid.
Net Metering: DPU's current net metering policy credits customers with photovoltaic systems for excess electricity at the full retail rate of $0.1152/kWh each month. At the end of the year DPU determines the difference between what was generated and consumed by the customer. If the customer generated more electricity, this difference of the excess generation is compensated by DPU at the average whole sale rate which can vary from year-to-year, but is generally around $0.06/kWh. Since the customer was already credited at the retail rate, the customer is sent a bill for the difference between the retail rate already credited to their account and the wholesale rate.
Value-of-Solar Tariff: According to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory’s website, the value of solar refers to methods used to determine the market value of distributed photovoltaic projects at the local utility distribution level. Looking at factors such as the impact customer-owned photovoltaic systems have on both Los Alamos County's distribution system and the community’s power supply requirements, a contractor recently determined the value of solar market value to be at $0.08/kWh for residential customer and $0.09/kWh for commercial customers - the second highest that this contractor ever calculated. This is due to the demand peak for the Los Alamos Power Pool which happens to coincide with the generation peak for these customer-owned photovoltaic systems. While DPU does not currently use a value-of-solar tariff, a billing mechanism that incorporates the value of solar might replace the existing net metering policy should DPU's governing authorities choose to do so in the future.
Level of Interest
At this stage of the project, DPU is attempting to understand the market interest within our community to better determine the size of a potential community solar garden that would be needed and whether or not it would be economically feasible. Please complete the following survey to assist us with this endeavor. Expressing interest or no interest does not commit any person to participate or not participate.
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