Our View: To invest in solar energy or not?

Advertisement

Last week, the Steamboat Today reported on the Routt County commissioners' hesitation to invest in the community solar garden that is being constructed in Craig, and that response by the commission left us a little mystified.

It’s perplexing that Routt County, which successfully operates one of the largest solar arrays in the region on the top of the Routt County Justice Center, is reluctant to buy into a similar project on a smaller scale knowing how much money it has saved by investing in solar.

Steamboat Today editorial board — May to September 2014

  • Suzanne Schlicht, COO and publisher
  • Lisa Schlichtman, editor
  • Tom Ross, reporter
  • Tyler Goodman, community representative
  • John Merrill, community representative

Contact the editorial board at 970-871-4221 or editor@SteamboatToday.com. Would you like to be a member of the board? Fill out a letter of interest now.

According to County Facilities Director Tim Winter, the county paid $8 per watt for solar panels on the Justice Center seven years ago and has since recouped $60,000 in renewable energy credits and $24,000 in reduced energy bills. The pre-construction cost currently being quoted by Clean Energy Collective is as low as $2.75 per watt, so in simple terms, any investment the county makes in the solar garden will more than pay for itself and seems like a wise investment.

We appreciate the county’s desire to conduct business transparently, but in this particular case, Clean Energy Collective is contracting with Yampa Valley Electric Association to build the solar garden, and the county is a third party to the agreement. We realize it may be a departure from the county’s normal purchasing protocol where bids are sought before significant purchases are made, but in this case, we’re not talking about a big capital outlay by the county.

Back in March, the Steamboat Springs City Council made a similar decision to the county’s by opting out of buying into the community solar garden at that time. A motion made by council member Sonja Macys to buy into the array was not seconded and no vote was taken to pursue involvement in the project. Instead, the council left open its options to reconsider the proposal after its annual budget hearings in October.

In our opinion, the solar garden being built in Craig is a positive step toward meeting renewable energy requirements set out by the Environmental Protection Agency and the state of Colorado, and it falls in line with the county’s goal of transitioning to “future energy strategies.” It also would match the city’s stated priority of being a leader in sustainability.

In this case, if the county and city choose not to participate in the project, there still is the opportunity for individuals to buy into the array and benefit from the economies of scale offered by a larger, shared project. The solar garden provides a way for home owners or renters to have access to solar energy without having to make the large upfront investment to erect rooftop systems on their own homes.

We encourage individuals to consider buying into the project, especially if they are seeking renewable energy alternatives but can’t afford to go it alone. According to a Today article about the solar garden, consumers can get involved for as little as $825 for a single 300-watt panel, and the initial credit to purchasers of solar electricity will be 10 cents per kilowatt-hour compared to YVEA’s current rate of about 7.8 cents per kwh. And if homeowners sell their homes, their solar panels will move with them within the YVEA district or they have the option to resell the panels if they move outside the district.

We view both the county commission’s and the city council’s hesitation to invest in the solar garden as a missed opportunity for our local government leaders to make a small but meaningful investment in a project that could pay bigger dividends for individual consumers, and we hope they’ll reconsider. In our eyes, their involvement in the project is not only an investment in renewable energy but an endorsement. And with both entities listing sustainability as a priority, involvement in the solar garden seems to be a good way to demonstrate that commitment.

Comments

Scott Wedel 2 years ago

Before writing such an editorial shouldn't someone check the price of solar panels?

County could place an order at Lowe's for a 9,500 watt system for $21,400 or about $2.26 per watt.

$2.75 per watt is no deal requiring dealing with CEC.

I guess it is a good sign when our elected representatives show informed judgement and the editorial writers are uninformed do-gooders.

0

Tyler Goodman 2 years ago

Scott,

Searched Lowe's website and found no such system you're speaking of. I did find it at Home Depot, however the product has been discontinued.

http://www.homedepot.com/p/t/203080199?catalogId=10053&langId=-1&storeId=10051&N=5yc1vZbm1wZ12lfZ12li&R=203080199

Regardless, this is a material only cost. What about installation? The current $2.75 per watt CEC is offering seems to be a fair market price especially when considering the hassle avoided of purchasing, installing, and maintaining a stand alone system.

TG

0

mark hartless 2 years ago

There are some who consider a six pack an "investment". Others think of it as more of a "purchase".

The one person you should never try to fool is YOU.

0

Scott Wedel 2 years ago

The $2.75 from CEC relies upon a tax break scheme in which somehow relies upon a government qualifying for tax breaks. So, that price is reliant upon other government money. A responsible government wouldn't knowingly waste money offered by another layer of government.

Looks to me that there is plenty of room on the roof to add to the county's current system which is free real estate for the county. Nor has the county made any suggestion that their current system has bothersome maintenance costs.

Of more relevance, the editorial mentioned the cost of the county's current system and the cost of CEC's proposed system without bothering to mentioned the current pricing of a system. Maybe the editorial board didn't find the pricing I found, but the editorial certainly gave the impression that market pricing is more comparable to the 7 year ago $8 per watt than current pricing which is better than CEC's pricing.

Are your comments on installation and maintenance costs implying that the typical editorial reader knows the CEC proposal costs more per watt than current market pricing? And thus it is common knowledge to prefer the CEC solar farm due installation and maintenance costs despite the higher cost per watt of the panels?

And do you really think that the consequences a 10kw solar pv system being discontinued at Home Depot means that only much more expensive systems can be found? On the Home Depot page you found you can click on the above product category of "Solar Panel > kits" and see a 5,3 kw system for $12,388.or $2.34 per watt.

0

jerry carlton 2 years ago

How much money is the Pilot investing in this project? Put your money where your mouth is.

1

Scott Wedel 2 years ago

The picture of CEC other solar farm outside of Breckenridge shows a stationary, not a tilting system.

The county's existing solar panels lack fencing (being on a roof) and are not a maintenance issue even now 7 years after being installed.

The price decline of $8 in 2007 to $2+ in 2014 reflects the overall trend for solar PV panels.

I think it is not helpful for an editorial to fail to mention the current market prices for solar. If the reason to invest is "etc etc" then that should be mentioned, not the much higher prices of 7 years ago.

0

Fred Duckels 2 years ago

The gov. forces utilities to use renewables for a certain percentage of their power. This is really the only way that it can be sold as it is not even close to making market sense,.The utilities are guaranteed a profit so they only pretend to be offended. The big loser is our country and our ability to compete. Factor in China and India and go figure.

0

Scott Wedel 2 years ago

Fred,

At $8 per watt, solar cells needed grants or deep subsidies to make any sense. At $2.26 per watt then the electricity produced over it's lifetime will more than pay for the system. It is definitely close to making market sense for a property owner. If you assume 5% annual increases in electricity costs then it is a slam dunk.

Large wind turbines are very much worth it if located in a properly windy location.

0

Sam Jones 2 years ago

We have committed to the array for our personal home and I can say without a doubt, you will not find a better deal, either in up front costs or annual maintenance expenses. Of course I did the research, got bids to do a home install, etc and even after the tax rebate from the Fed, it's still about $1.00/ watt less by going with the community array. Folks, make no mistake, this is the last stop to participate in solar for under $3.00/ watt. This pricing does factor in the 30% tax credit and that tax credit is going away in 2016. Prices of solar panels are already on the rise after hitting an all time low in late 2012. The real cost difference comes down to the economy of scale of participating in a giant array with a volume deal on installation, permitting, connection fees, etc. Every builder in town knows that price/ sq foot drops with a larger project. This is no different. I wish I could buy more than 120% of our annual KWH usage (which we did to accomodate a plug in vehicle)

Don't forget that this is not a consumption item as mentioned. This is an investment in your home, one that will save you money every month, and ultimately pay you back handsomely on the sale of your property (yes homes without electric bills sell for more money). Solar panel installations are increasing at double digit rates, 20-30% in some countries, and have been for the last 8 years. Could so many have it all wrong? Are all of these people, businesses, municipalities, governments and countries just making bad investments?

I agree with the paper that the county and city have missed their chance to lead on this one. In their defense, it seems there are a lot of politics involved and both have a lot on their plate as is. I hope they might reconsider at a different time.

Reading these posts, I also understand there is a serious lack of knowledge and education about solar in our community. We probably need more help and information in general.

Get em while they're ..... hot :-)

0

Scott Wedel 2 years ago

Last stop for under $3,00 per watt?

I just don't see that. Current spot wholesale pricing in US is less than a dollar per watt.

0

Sam Jones 2 years ago

Scott, we are talking about complete installation costs as well as 25 years of maintenance built in. You get that right? plumbing supplies are cheap off the shelf as well but that's never your finished cost is it? Perhaps you are the Uber DIY guy. Good for you. But for the rest of us, we don't have the time or knowledge.

0

Fred Duckels 2 years ago

Yes Scott an entity can make a case for renewables but they never consider the big picture and how it is necessary to be backed up with conventional, that's where the rub is.

0

Scott Wedel 2 years ago

Fred,

Having high efficiency nat gas generation as backup is no rub.

Wind and solar generate during the hours of the day when peak demand occurs. So they count as helping to meet peak load.

And renewables are not any concern to the grid until they reach 30%. That is years away. Other countries on target to well exceed that will figure out how to deal with that. Wind turbines can be designed to be spinning at low power and thus be ready to generate power as needed for a stable grid.

0

Scott Wedel 2 years ago

Much of the installation costs are fixed. Working on the building's wiring to accept solar is about the same regardless of system size. So installing a larger system doesn't cost much more than installing a smaller system. Adding to an existing system costs less than installing a new system.

County has existing system on the roof of the jail. They could install panels there at a pretty low additional cost.

The maintenance costs of a solar PV system? Cleaning them a couple times a year?

Anyway, County Commissioners are not going to buy into CEC unless they want to end their political careers. If something were to go wrong with CEC and their secret program then they will have wasted public funds. If they want to spend money on solar as a popular program then they can add capacity to their existing system.

0

Fred Duckels 2 years ago

Scott, Where do you buy your rose colored glasses? I wish very much that you are right but I fear not. For one, I know folks that repair windmills and they state that they are a bunch of junk. Enviros cringe when oil runs down the shaft but such is the case. Upkeep is probably not in your budget but it is immense if their testimony is correct.

0

Scott Wedel 2 years ago

Fred,

Do you know if they were talking about newer or older windmills? The older turbines had huge problems with bearings failing. The bearings were designed to handle the calculated wind load on the shaft, but vibrations and harmonics were much larger than expected. They say that is fixed in current systems and that recent installs are lasting as designed.

On grid Solar PV has never needed much maintenance other than occasionally removing dirt without damaging the panels. Batteries for off grid systems need maintenance.

0

rhys jones 2 years ago

The C.J. Box book Cold Wind is very insightful about wind power. While a murder mystery, our protagonist, Joe Pickett, is a Wyoming Game Warden who somehow gets dragged into it -- oh the things he finds himself amidst -- and it centers largely around the recent upsurge in wind activity in Wyoming, including the subsidies and maintenance issues, and the abuses of the system. Wind has a number of issues, remoteness among them.

It's not so much that Wyoming is windy -- it's just that Kansas and Nebraska SUCK!! Drive across either, and tell me I'm wrong. (when you finally get to Colorado -- Kansas still goes on!!)

AARGHH!!!

0

Karl Koehler 2 years ago

$60K in REC is just crony driven wealth redistribution - nothing particularly admirable or noteworthy about it in my view. This sort of investment doesn't pay for itself so much as someone else pays for it. That may be good business but it's ethically questionable in my book. As for the $24K in reduced energy bills, I'd like to know more details. Is this $24K worth of electricity supplied directly with energy derived from the solar array on the Justice Center? And was that on a hey we didn't have to buy kilowatt hours because we were generating them ourselves basis? Or did it include some sort of net metering bamboozlement? I advocate making the costs and benefits of publicly owned solar systems known so citizens can judge for themselves the value of such investments. To this day, those figures are not easy to come by. There was a time when the County was so proud of the Justice Center installation that the real time and historical electricity generation data was available on the County's home page. These days? Not so much. Here's what we need: the cost of the installation (total including engineering, planning, permitting, etc.), the amount of electricity produced over time, and the maintenance costs. I do not believe these systems are maintenance free, Low maintenance? Maybe. No maintenance? If that's the case, I'd anticipate a useful life far short of projections. The new array in Craig, if built, is another opportunity to turn all the cards up on the table. I doubt it'll happen.

0

Karl Koehler 2 years ago

$60K in REC is just crony driven wealth redistribution - nothing particularly admirable or noteworthy about it in my view. This sort of investment doesn't pay for itself so much as someone else pays for it. That may be good business but it's ethically questionable in my book. As for the $24K in reduced energy bills, I'd like to know more details. Is this $24K worth of electricity supplied directly with energy derived from the solar array on the Justice Center? And was that on a hey we didn't have to buy kilowatt hours because we were generating them ourselves basis? Or did it include some sort of net metering bamboozlement? I advocate making the costs and benefits of publicly owned solar systems known so citizens can judge for themselves the value of such investments. To this day, those figures are not easy to come by. There was a time when the County was so proud of the Justice Center installation that the real time and historical electricity generation data was available on the County's home page. These days? Not so much. Here's what we need: the cost of the installation (total including engineering, planning, permitting, etc.), the amount of electricity produced over time, and the maintenance costs. I do not believe these systems are maintenance free, Low maintenance? Maybe. No maintenance? If that's the case, I'd anticipate a useful life far short of projections. The new array in Craig, if built, is another opportunity to turn all the cards up on the table. I doubt it'll happen.

0

Scott Wedel 2 years ago

Karl,

Justice Center has generated $24,000 in electricity in 7 years for a $200,000 25kw system paid by grants. Since it was a new building the design and overhead costs would be impossible to separate from the overall design costs. County still has a link to real time system monitoring under the "Our County" menu and then "renewable energy".

This is a good sized government building with air handling systems, computers, etc so they aren't selling much, if any, electricity back to YVEA.

County says it has has also received $36,000 in green energy credits for that electricity. I don't see those credits program currently being available. Maybe they still exist, but are only for government.

In terms of an investment, that is an annual return of 4.3% on spent money so they don't get the original investment back. That wouldn't have a good investment, but it wasn't an investment since it was other people's (grant) money. There is some public benefit of it being a public demonstration system as it is a public record of actual electricity generation numbers. That is both a record of how much sunlight we get, but how much the panels degrade over time.

0

Fred Duckels 2 years ago

The EPA is shutting down small coal plants and it seems that coal's days are numbered. The big boys in coal are amused but they know that coal will come back big in the future, renewables are but a fart in the wind.

0

Requires free registration

Posting comments requires a free account and verification.