There’s a much greater interest in solar energy in the past several years. Last week there was a special presentation to let area residents, business owners, school officials and church leaders learn more about what it takes.
The event was sponsored by Attica Main Street, Purdue Extension-Fountain County, Tri Kappa, Hoosier Environmental Council, Solar United Neighbors and Evangelical Environmental Network.
Jessie Kharbanda, executive director of the Hoosier Environmental Council, told the group the motivations are diverse, ranging from energy independence to a wanting to honor creation. There are also those out there are who are vulnerable.
Solar is getting used in Indiana, its energy is put on the same lines as coal, nuclear and wind energies.
He explained how a singular building can use the solar energy.
Solar panels at the home, usually on the roof, convert energy from the sun into electricity. There’s an inverter which converts the electricity produced by the solar panels from direct current (DC) to alternating current (AC) for use in the building. The energy is used in the building. A bi-directional meter measures energy used from power lines and excess energy produced. Any excess energy from the solar panels not used in the home goes to the electrical grid. This is called net metering using a photovoltaic solar example.
Indiana has distributed generation compensation rules other than net metering.
He said there are three opportunities to advance customer-owned and community-owned solar energy.
First, he said, is to legalize a third party community solar program. Solar VP panels produce the renewable energy which can be used for energy credits on each share of the solar garden on the subscriber’s utility bill.
Community solar energy has key beneficiaries across the United States like commercial tenants and multi family housing. The energy produced is equivalent to that of 285,000 homes now and 700,000 homes over the next five years.
He gave an example of a case study from Minnesota, Westminster Presbyterian Church. It had a 25-year contract with ReneSola Power, as it leases land from a monoculture farmer. The land has a natural habitat for pollinators and will save $1 million over life of the contract.
The second opportunity he listed was to legalize third-party financing. The key beneficiaries are municipalities, small businesses and homes. In New Jersey 83 percent of solar residential projects. Illinois is a state which does allow third party financing.
As an example, Cincinnati has a PPA with solar power and light. It’s a 20-year contract with five locations.
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The third opportunity is to legalize PACE financing. Key benefactors are large commercial properties and small businesses. There’s 63,000 jobs, $6.7 billion, and 240,000 in projects.
He went through how it works, the state passes PACE enabling legislation, local government creates or joins an assessment district. Building owner evaluates projects that reduce energy costs and decides to go forward. Local government provides financing and adds assessment to tax roll. The property owner pays assessments on tax bill for up to 20 years.
A case study in Michigan has Orion Township putting in a 95KW solar plus LED lighting. It’s $350,000 in savings over 20 years.
There are solar HOA bills that are streamlined regulations with regard to solar in HOA areas. It’s tweaking the controversial SB309 in changing the caps and giving an exemption to schools and municipalities.
Zach Schalk with Solar United Neighbors opened his presentation with “We’re a community of people building a new energy system with rooftop solar at the cornerstone. We help people go solar, join together and fight for their energy rights.”
The group has projects in Arizona, Colorado, Washington, D.C.c Florida, Indiana, Maryland, Minnesota, New Jersey, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Texas, Virginia and West Virginia.
His presentation was in two parts: solar technology and solar economics.
He said Indiana has ample solar resources, more than Germany which is one of the world’s leaders in solar.
Most homeowners install between 2-12 KW systems. Homes don’t need electrical upgrades, generally, before putting solar panels in. The panels themselves are installed on a rack on a roof thats faces south and aren’t shaded.
It was explained that when the grid is down the solar panels shut down as a safety measure, and if there’s a power outage then batteries are needed. This storage would be needed if there are frequent outages in an area, critical loads at home like well pumps or medical equipment are used, and for emergency and disaster preparedness.
If more electricity is generated than used then it flows back through the meter and it’s a credit on the electricity bill for the excess production, and that can roll over month to month. Net metering creates a solar offset and generates credits that can be used throughout the year, Schalk explained. In Indiana, systems installed before July 1, 2022, will receive net metering until 2032; but systems installed after 2022 will not receive net metering. When net metering ends instead of getting the full 1:1 net metering rate, homeowners will be credited at the marginal price which is typically about a third of the cost or retail plus 25 percent.
He said the economics of it all show the cost of having solar units have decreased 90 percent since the 1970s. It’s no longer a specialty project for homeowners, but that doesn’t mean it’s not still daunting to get into. And, there are financing options. There are loans and there are grants through the USDA REAP . Plus, he said, many solar installers offer financing.