Interconnected Renewable Options

By Dallas Braun, General Manager Thumb Electric Cooperative

Since 2008, Thumb Electric Cooperative (TEC) has offered a program for members who may want to install their own renewable energy system and interconnect it to the grid. Anyone interested should consider factors such as utility interconnection requirements, location, size, cost, and available incentives. These are things best discussed with a professional solar dealer familiar with your area. There are many solar dealers eager to sell you a system. One of the things that will be shown to you is the anticipated payback or return on your investment. There are a lot of variables that are included in the calculation of this payback. It is important that the calculation of this payback be clearly understood. It is advised that the expertise of a financial advisor or tax preparer be used to verify the numbers.

There may be many reasons to justify the investment of a renewable energy system, including payback, wanting to be “green,” or others. The main thing to remember is that you, the individual making the investment, must be comfortable.

There are approximately 30 member-owned, small, renewable energy systems interconnected and enrolled in TEC’s net-metering tariff. This tariff, created in 2008, allows members to offset the amount of electricity they use from TEC’s system by generating some of their own. If the renewable system produces more than what was needed at that site, the energy flows back on the grid. This tariff was closed earlier this year.

Those enrolled in Net-Metering will remain on this tariff for a total of 10 years before being converted to the new Distributed Renewable Energy tariff. The main difference between the two tariffs is the rate of compensation for the electricity flowing back to the grid. Rather than full retail, the new tariff pays a fairer market rate. This rate changes monthly but has been averaging 3–4 cents/kWh over the past several years. Currently, there are five, member-owned solar systems enrolled in the new replacement tariff. Remember, these tariffs were created so the designed renewable energy systems only offset members’ electricity consumption, not to become a power producer.

If you have an interest in producing more electricity than what you use, you may have an interest in a new tariff. At an upcoming special board meeting on November 20, the TEC board will act on a proposed tariff called Buy All/Sell All (BASA). Under the BASA tariff, a member agrees to buy all your electricity from the cooperative at the retail rate and sell all your renewable energy generated back to the cooperative at a rate of $0.06/kWh. The maximum allowable size of the renewable generator will be 50 KW.

Whichever program you may be interested in, there is an application process. This process ensures that TEC is involved right from the start. Unfortunately, we have had a handful of solar dealers sell and install systems prior to submitting the application to TEC. In all of these situations, the systems were not properly installed per TEC requirements. Installing systems without following the proper application process leads to delays, increased costs, dissatisfaction and frustration.

If you have an interest in a renewable system, make sure to contact TEC first. Information on the renewable programs offered and the application process can be found at our website at tecmi.coop. You can also call the office at 1-800-327-0166 with more specific questions.