August 2017 Back Page – Considering Wind or Solar for Your Home?

by / Tuesday, 22 August 2017 / Published in Messages from the CEO

We regularly get inquiries from members interested in wind or solar power for themselves. One of their top questions is: Do we “net-meter” consumer-owned generation? The short answer is no. Operating and maintaining an electric utility in our villages is expensive, which is why our rates are as high as they are. We will certainly pay you for your surplus energy, but we pay at our avoided cost—which is basically the cost of fuel that we are saving as a result of receiving your excess generation.

   That being said, we will only allow up to a specific amount of non-utility generation to be connected to our system. That amount is far more generous than most utilities permit and equates to 5 to 15 percent of the average electric load in the community. Utilities regulated by the Regulatory Commission of Alaska are required to allow customer-owned generation up to 1.5 percent of their average load. I recently had a residential solar contractor install 12 solar panels on my roof in Anchorage—3.6 kilowatts of total capacity.

   During June, I used 462 kilowatt-hours, not much different than a home in one of our communities. My solar panels generated 399 kWh that month, but I was only able to use 194 kWh myself, so the other 205 kWh flowed back into Chugach’s system to be used by others. I used 268 kWh generated by Chugach. Because I am net-metered, I saved $76.57 last month.

   Under our co-generation tariff, and using Kiana as an example, had I lived there, my electric bill for 462 kWh would have been $128.22 after PCE. With my solar generation, I would have paid $42.45, thereby saving $85.77—or 12 percent more than I did in Anchorage!

   We are asked why we set a limit on customer-owned generation. We have to do that because the intermittent nature of wind and solar power affects neighbors and the distribution system. It also can impact the generation system. Thirty kW of wind in a small system can cause load fluctuations that can damage transformers and generators.

   When we install renewables in our communities, we install extremely complex electronic control and dispatch systems to prevent damage while maintaining our diesel efficiency. Even with such control systems, we have to reduce or curtail renewables periodically. We cannot do that with customer-owned generation, so please work with us if you would like to install your own wind or solar generation system.

   The meter that serves your home must be programmed to track electricity flowing from you to our system. If a system is installed and connected to the grid without our knowledge and consent, the meter will simply add all energy flowing through it and the customer will be billed the combined kWh as if it were all purchased from AVEC. That would be an unpleasant surprise, and is easily avoidable by talking to us first and following our tariff.