Politics & Government

Solar energy without panels on your house: Fayetteville launches community solar

Residents who get their electricity from Fayetteville Public Works will be able to benefit from solar energy without having to put panels on their homes.

The municipal public works department in the city formally unveiled its community solar farm Wednesday. It’s the type of installation that the state’s clean energy plan contemplates North Carolina getting more of to meet the goal of drastically reducing greenhouse gas emissions from electricity production.

Community solar opens the chance that residents who live in apartments, cannot afford the expense to install solar panels or live in homes bathed in shade can get credit for solar energy production. Fayetteville’s solar program will be open to businesses, too.

Signing up is optional and will begin Nov. 1.

“A lot of people want solar, even if they can’t afford it,” Matt Deal, clean energy program manager at the Sierra Club’s North Carolina chapter, said in an interview Tuesday. “That’s why community solar is so important.”

Fayetteville public works commissioners cited customer demand as one of the reasons the city developed community solar. The project also helps the utility meet the state requirement for some of its electricity to come from renewable sources.

Fayetteville is the first municipal utility in the state to offer community solar to customers.

“We’re hoping this is something other communities will adopt,” said Carolyn Justice-Hinson, spokeswoman for Fayetteville Public Works.

The solar panels will produce energy that is sent to the power grid to replace some of the electricity that Fayetteville Public Works buys from Duke Energy.

Fayetteville power customers who want to participate will pay a one-time enrollment fee and a separate charge to subscribe to one to five of the installation’s 3,384 panels, Justice-Hinson said. The subscribers pay a monthly subscription fee and receive monthly credits. The plan for the first year is for the credits to be higher than the fees. Beginning in January, a subscriber with one panel would pay a monthly fee of $1.53 and receive a $2.51 monthly credit, she said. Subscribers will be able to drop out whenever they want.

North Carolinians like renewable energy. A poll sponsored by Conservatives for Clean Energy earlier this year found that more than 75% of voters surveyed said wind and solar energy represented technological advances and should be expanded. Majorities of Republicans, Democrats and unaffiliated voters held that view, according to the poll.

Duke Energy is in the second year of a five-year rebate program that offers residents up to $6,000 for solar panels installed on their homes. All the residential rebates were claimed the first day they were available this year, Duke Energy spokesman Randy Wheeless said in an interview Wednesday. The company has given rebates to about 3,500 residents and businesses in the first two years.

The state’s electric cooperatives, which are non-profit, consumer-owned companies, started offering community solar in 2014. Eleven of the state’s 26 electric co-ops have solar farms, and most of the 11 allow customers to subscribe to community solar.

“A lot of the co-ops identified this as a great way to bring solar access to co-op members,” Lindsey Listrom, a North Carolina Electric Cooperative spokeswoman, said in an interview Tuesday.

Fayetteville’s instillation will produce much more power than any of the co-op farms.

“This project is larger than anything that’s been done with community solar across the state,” said Kimberly Conley, project manager at the NC Clean Energy Technology Center.

The technology center worked on the Fayetteville project’s economic analysis and program design.

Fayetteville’s solar project includes a giant battery that will store energy that can be used during peak times, when electricity the utility buys is more expensive. Justice-Hinson said using the stored energy will save money.

The Sierra Club’s Neal said the battery helps make the Fayetteville project “cutting edge.”

“It makes the energy from the solar facility more valuable,” he said. “They can dispatch it when they need it.”

Lynn Bonner has worked at The News & Observer since 1994, and has written about the state legislature and politics since 1999. Contact her at lbonner@newsobserver.com or (919) 829-4821.
  Comments