Solar benefits outweigh costs in NC

And the same is true in Georgia, despite Georgia Power and Southern Company.

John Downey wrote for Charlotte Business Journal 23 October 2013, Study: Solar benefits outweigh costs in NC

An independent study published by a nationally known energy consultant asserts that adding 500 megawatts of solar generation in North Carolina would save utility ratepayers about $26 million annually.

It notes the gains from solar projects — such as lower transmission and distribution costs, avoided emissions, lower losses of electricity in transmission. The study calculates that such benefits outweigh the costs by 30 percent to 40 percent.

The study considered two intertwined solar methods:

Wholesale solar involves power sold to utilities through power-purchase agreements with solar developers such as Strata Solar of Chapel Hill and SunEnergy1 of Huntersville. Distributed generation solar is solar “behind the meter,” which means solar projects in which the owner uses the power to offset some of its own demand for electricity and sells excess power to the utility through net metering.

Or O2 Energies’ Sandy Hill Solar or Castalia Solar’s 13 acre solar farm, both in Nash County, NC.

“This study confirms what we are experiencing every day as more and more solar projects are being developed in North Carolina with benefits flowing to local communities,” said Ralph Thompson, chairman of the North Carolina Clean Energy Business Alliance.

The findings could get a real-world test before long. Developers are expected to build 370 megawatts of new solar capacity in the state next year — close to the 400 megawatt wholesale figure — according to projections by industry tracker NPD Solarbuzz.

The progress of distributed generation projects are a little harder to track, although anecdotally solar construction companies see net metering projects on the rise in the state.

This was all using the utility “avoided cost” canard:

The study calculates that the utilities’ current avoided-cost rates — subject to commission approval — will be 4.5 to 5 cents per kilowatt-hour for current projects over that 15-year window. The avoided costs represent the minimum price utilities must pay independent solar developers for the power they produce from any project rated at 5 megawatts or less. Prices for power from larger projects are negotiated, but the avoided costs remain an important factor in the calculations. Only a handful of projects in the state are larger than 5 megawatts, although several more are slated for construction next year.

AustinEnergy’s Value of Solar tariff figures in the true value of solar power to a utility, including not just the avoided generation cost, but also lower line costs due to distributed generation, and lower financing costs through pushing back building other types of generation. Austin Energy pays three cents per kiloWatt-hour more than retail for customer-generated solar power.

AustinEnergy is owned by the City of Austin. For-profit utilities don’t look forward so kindly to losing their profits. Yet they can only put off switching to solar for a brief time, until they go the way of AustinEnergy in 2003 or Cobb EMC in 2012 and switch to solar for new power generation.

Even Southern Company CEO Tom Fanning brought up using rooftops as generation sites back May 2013 at the SO stockholder meeting. Even the Georgia PSC and legislature will get tired of SO’s Plant Vogtle nuclear boondoggle and will cap cost overruns. Then Vogtle 3 and 4 will go the way of Calvert Cliffs 3, South Texas Nuclear Project 3 and 4, Bellefonte, and Levy County, and will be cancelled. Finally we will be able to get on with real speed of solar deployment in Georgia.

The study also considered California and Arizona, but didn’t bother with F-grade Georgia.

Although even in Georgia, even formerly all-mighty Georgia Power had to agree in July to double the amount of solar power it will buy and in December failed to get ALEC’s ALEC’s solar tax, both at the Georgia PSC. The sun is rising, even on Georgia.

-jsq