Fascinating Solar Power

Are you getting the most for your money?

The power of the sun is simply amazing. So is technology that enables sunlight to be transformed into electricity. At WCEC, we have about 50 members that are taking advantage of this with grid-tied solar panels.

These members generate electricity for their homes and businesses with solar panels. Then, they route any excess electricity they don’t use to WCEC’s powerlines to be sent to the grid to be used by others.  These members are paid for the kWh they send to WCEC by bill credit. Currently, there’s a $50.00 application fee for systems under 25kw, which helps pay for the safety inspection and specialized double meter.

 Avoiding Buying VS Getting Paid – (Note: All rates, policies, and practices are subject to change based on market and economic factors. The following costs/prices are not guaranteed and will be reviewed and revised periodically.)

For the best financial advantage, a member with grid-tied solar should try to use every single kWh their unit makes. That’s because for every kWh of solar they manufacture and use, they’re avoiding purchasing a kWh that cost 11.2 cents. When they sell their solar to WCEC they are being paid .072139 cents per kWh, the same blended rate that the cooperative pays for power on the wholesale market.  This rate is reviewed and revised annually to mirror the wholesale rate.

There’s a good reason the amount a member pays per kWh, and the amount a member is paid per kWh, is not the same. The rate the cooperative charges a member per kWh includes the cost of the purchased electricity, as well all WCEC’s overhead and facilities costs to include wires, meters, substations, and other hardware and overhead costs like trucks, fuel, people, and offices.  For obvious reasons, we don’t pay the member for the cooperatives services and equipment when we buy their electricity.  We just pay them for their electricity they sell us.

The Finances – Let’s look at the financial side of grid-tied solar. Is selling your solar manufactured electricity to WCEC the best financial deal? The below chart illustrates why it pays more for a member to use all the electricity they make instead.  Here’s a comparison of different scenarios: 1.) No solar; 2.)  Member selling more solar than the kWh they buy from WCEC; 3.) Member using half and selling half; 4.) Member using all the power they generate.

It’s clear to see by the chart, the lowest bill comes when the member avoids purchasing 100 kWh by using all their solar (scenario 4).

For the Sake of Safety

A member’s solar panel that is not connected to WCEC’s system is known as a “stand-alone” or “isolated” system. A solar unit that is tied to a dwelling or structure connected to a WCEC meter, even if the member is not exporting power to WCEC, is called a grid-tied or distributed generation unit.  Whether a member wants to export excess kWh to WCEC or not, the grid-tied systems must be inspected and approved by WCEC to ensure it has a properly working UL 1741 compliant Inverter.  Such systems must also have a visible, lockable, and accessible disconnect switch.

Without the safety system, there is threat of electrocution. When power line workers are working on a section of line, they may deenergize it, and therefore believe there is no power running through it.  But a connected solar unit operates the same as any other generator.  It can back feed electricity onto powerlines to cause a dangerous and potentially life-threatening situation for linemen. A properly working inverter stops power from being sent to a deenergized line.

That’s why it’s critical that all members notify WCEC of any solar units that are connected to structures tied to WCEC meters. The coop will inspect to insure the proper safety equipment is in place to avoid back feed.  Additionally, the cooperative will mark the solar generation location on the system map, so linemen are aware of it when they are working on lines and they can check to make sure there is no electrical current back feeding, before they start work.

Fun in the Sun that’s Safe and Pays Dividends

Every member has their own economic and social reasons for choosing solar, or not. Every member is encouraged to do their own homework to determine if adopting solar is a sound economical solution for them.  We support all members in adopting what best suits them.  But, we also want to make sure they don’t leave money on the table by not signing up for grid-tied solar.  Because, unless they are signed up to have their excess electricity metered, it’s not being counted.  And more critically, we want to ensure the protection of our linemen as they work for you.

To learn more about implementing grid-tied solar, or to register an existing system, just call and ask for our Solar and System Engineer at 903-763-2203 or inquire by email at info@wcec.org.