Writer // Janelle Morrison Photography // Courtesy of Wabash Valley Power
Serving Boone County and western Zionsville since 1936, Boone REMC has been working to keep their rates reasonable and improve energy efficiency. Boone REMC is a not-for-profit local electric cooperative that is managed by its members, not shareholders. The co-op serves over 12,000 members and 14,000 meters across five counties in total. It is a member of Indiana Electric Cooperatives and the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association and is a Touchstone Energy® cooperative. Wabash Valley Power is Boone REMC’s wholesale power provider.
Last fall, Boone REMC announced the launch of the “Co-op Solar” program, a partnership of REMCs throughout the northern portion of Indiana and with co-ops in Illinois and Missouri.
The program gives its members the option of “buying” in and using solar energy without the hefty investment of installing solar panels on their rooftops or the maintenance of solar panel equipment. Members who participate in Co-op Solar purchase a “unit” of solar power.
The arrays owned by Wabash Valley Power are located in Peru, Wanatah and Danville, Indiana, and in Ste. Genevieve, Missouri and Paris, Illinois.
According to Boone REMC’s description of the program, “Energy purchased through the Co-op Solar program costs $0.44 per share per month in addition to the cooperative’s standard rates and charges. Each share is estimated to produce an average of 43 kilowatt-hours per month. Participating members may select up to 100 percent of their expected electric usage, not to exceed 83 shares per member. The additional charge for participating in the Co-op Solar program will appear as a line item on your regular monthly billing statement.”
“Part of the co-op philosophy is that we’re always trying to stay ahead of the game in solar or renewable power,” said Ben Duke, accounting supervisor at Boone REMC. “You can purchase as many kilowatts as you want up to your maximum usage. You can have one or up to 83 units. For members who sign up, we look at their last 12 months of usage and get an average. We will readjust that on an annual basis.”
When asked how the co-op would affect a member’s monthly bill, Duke explained, “If I look at everybody that is currently in our program, the average monthly increase is $12.56 to cover all of their usage with renewable energy. It’s similar to paying for recycling services in that some people want to pay extra to recycle and ‘reduce’ their carbon footprint. This program is a lot like that. You can pay a little extra to get renewable energy. For our members who rent or live in neighborhoods with HOAs that are not permitted to install solar panels, this gives them an option for solar power. People call me and want to discuss installing solar panels on their rooftops, and they need to consider that’s a big investment. They [solar panels] are $8,000-$20,000, depending on the size that you get, and then manufacturers are estimating a 20-year payback period. There’s also the maintenance of these panels. You have to clear off snow and leaves and also brush the dust and dirt off, so that the panels can get their full capacity.”
While solar power development is still in its infancy and nowhere close to satisfying the full demand of the world’s energy production needs, it is an alternate and renewable source of energy that wholesalers, such as Wabash Valley Power, are not discounting but are powering up for an increased demand of renewable energy sources from resellers and consumers alike.
Wabash Valley Power is a G&T (Generation and Transmission) Co-op. It is owned by its 23 distribution co-ops; Boone REMC is one of its distribution co-op owners. There are two kinds of solar the industry talks about: Community solar is a shared solar program and allows members to participate in green energy in an easy and very affordable way while utility-scale solar is the addition of solar as a source of energy right alongside other sources, like natural gas, coal, wind, landfill gas and more.
“Solar power is collected from the solar arrays and added to the grid, and at that point, electricity becomes indistinguishable from other energy sources,” explained Lisa Richardson, communications manager for Wabash Valley Power. “It doesn’t change the way that you get your energy today from your electric provider. The Co-op program allows us to add more solar to the grid. It’s like a bucket filling with water. It’s going in from multiple sources, but we’re adding this renewable energy, which displaces other types of energy and is adding more renewable, so that our dependency on fossil fuels and other kinds of energy sources can be lessened.”
Richardson acknowledged that renewable sources of energy are intermittent, and when the sun goes down, it poses an issue in terms of getting electricity to homes.
“This is where the development of batteries in the future will help fill that gap,” Richardson said. “We have to have electricity 24/7, and we currently meet that reliability goal by having multiple sources. Unfortunately, the technology to go completely solar isn’t quite there yet. We are still early on in the technology development. But, we’re trying to make solar power easy and affordable, and it’s voluntary, so it’s up to individuals whether they want to jump in and help us achieve these environmental goals.”
As the demand grows, so does the need to build more solar arrays. When asked if land acquisitions is a concern or issue for some land developers, Richardson explained how solar array site locations are determined.
“One of the considerations when a solar array is sited is that perhaps there are no better uses for that plot of land,” she said. “Oftentimes, you’ll see solar arrays located near airports or near places that people won’t be building homes or businesses. We provide power to 23 distribution co-ops; most of those are located in northern Indiana. We also provide power to three co-ops in Illinois and one in Missouri. Of those 23, we have five co-ops who have begun offering Co-op Solar programs to their members, including Boone REMC. We have about five more who are preparing to offer this community solar program to their members in 2018.”
Richardson concluded, “We are already seeing the popularity of community solar programs soar across the country. With the price of solar going down so rapidly over the last couple of years, we’re seeing both the growth of community solar programs as well as more solar going in behind the meter. As technology improved, demand started picking up for solar, and as a result, the price of solar has started to go down. Our commitment to our 23 co-ops is if your members want it and are interested in participating in the program, and we sell out of the first arrays, we will build more. We’ve had great success so far and are already looking to build more. Wabash has already approved to add another 2.5 megawatts once we sell these solar arrays out.”
See how it works for yourself or read up on some of the most frequently asked questions. You can even take a live look at how much solar energy Co-op Solar is producing right this moment and see how much you can start using when you sign up. Visit bremc.com for more details.
For Zionsville residents who are customers of Duke Energy, visit duke-energy.com for details about its “GoGreen” Indiana program and Net Metering programs. Duke Energy does not have a community solar program at this time.