By Dr. Robert Stonerock, Jr.
Did you know that the Orlando Utilities Commission (OUC) has a new program that allows you to buy into shares of a solar electric farm so that your home or business can be powered in part—or in full—by solar electricity?
If you live in the OUC service area this is an important program for you. It’s also important an important program to know about even if you don’t get your service from OUC. Once you’re familiar with the information below, then you can contact your electric provider and encourage the development of a similar program in your service area. Go ahead and plant the seeds. The program might just spring up because you did.
For those of you lucky enough to be in the OUC area, here’s how it works. Shares are available in single kilowatt (KW) portions, and currently you are allowed to own up to 15 of these. You pay a $50 sign-up fee that is refunded after a 2 year commitment to the program. After that, you just pay your monthly electric bill; except, you will be paying for solar power. Each KW represents the production capacity of the panels on the farm. The amount of electricity you’ll receive from them in any one day will depend on how much sunshine there is that day. On a clear day in Orlando, you can expect about 5 hours’ worth of full sun. That means if you own 15 shares or 15 KW, 15KW X 5hrs of electricity will produce 75 KWh. Until I started using power management techniques in my house, I averaged about 80 to 120 KWh of energy per day, depending on the season.
All right, so what are the economics of this program? Currently, OUC sells electricity to residents at about 10.6 cents per KWh. That’s down recently due to inexpensive natural gas. Currently, participants in the solar farm would indeed pay 2.4 cents more per KWh. So a person with 15 KW of farm shares who uses 75 KWh of electricity per day on clear days could nearly run their entire house on solar, paying $1.80 more than for non-solar energy($9.30 vs $7.50).
Well, that’s bad, right? Not necessarily. Many Floridians are used to cheap power and tend to get offended when the price goes up. But for those of us who treat climate change with the seriousness that’s due, this is an inexpensive way to participate in the solution without a large up-front investment in panels on the roof.
And there’s more. In the contract, OUC agrees not to raise the price of the charge for solar power for 25 years (however, the price could be reduced if future projects are built with less cost). So you can count on price stability. Furthermore, it is very likely that within the next few years the price of natural gas will rise substantially, especially given that demand is rising. So when that happens, it is also likely that solar power could be the same or less expensive than the non-solar electricity.
Finally, generating solar power tends to make homeowners much more conscious of the amount of power their houses use and so they make an effort to cut consumption. If the house uses less than the solar farm generates for the house, the excess electricity is credited to the homeowner at the non-solar rate. What’s exciting is that if the price of natural gas causes non-solar power to exceed the cost of the solar, then the homeowner whose house generates more power than it uses will have a net monthly gain credited to its electric bill. This is about the only time when the house would be a revenue generator and not just a big expense item.
Each one of us individually needs to break free from using fossil fuels. This program is a great way to take a big bite out of the problem with virtually no up-front expense.
So please give this program serious consideration. Sign up if you live in OUC’s territory. If you don’t, then push for this kind of program in your district. It’s one of the easiest ways you personally can make a huge difference.