Solar power, co-op style
Kentuckians are paying attention more than ever to how the electricity they use is generated. While some prioritize the reliability and affordability of coal and natural gas, others want access to renewable energy sources, such as solar power.
“Co-op members have asked our electric cooperatives to provide options for clean, renewable energy,” says Joe Spalding, board chairman of East Kentucky Power Cooperative (EKPC).
In November, Spalding helped flip the ceremonial switch for Cooperative Solar Farm One, a 60-acre solar array visible to drivers on Interstate 64 just east of Lexington. When the sun rises, more than 32,000 solar panels glisten on the farm’s rolling pasture adjacent to the headquarters of EKPC, the power provider for 16 electric co-ops.
The launch of Cooperative Solar provides members of Kentucky’s Touchstone Energy Cooperatives unprecedented options for affordable solar power, making 2018 an ideal time to sign up for one of many solar programs.
The Winchester solar farm is one of the largest in Kentucky, producing enough electricity to satisfy all the power needs of about 1,000 homes. Members of the 16 co-ops (see sidebar for a complete list) have an easy way to benefit from sun power without the hassle, maintenance and expense of owning private solar panels. The program is ideal for those who rent, have shaded property or do not want to put solar panels on their roof.
“The idea of someone else maintaining it was very attractive to us,” says Guy Huelat, who licensed 77 panels for his Russell County home. “This is much more efficient than everyone trying to figure this out on their own.”
Participating members pay a one-time fee of $460 to license one panel for 25 years. On average, each panel is estimated to produce 25 to 50 kilowatt hours of power monthly, depending on the time of year. The energy output of each licensed panel is calculated monthly and credited to the participating member’s bill.
Businesses are also participating. Pomeroy, a global provider of information technology services and a member of Owen Electric Cooperative, licensed 40 panels.
“I have been looking for a way to incorporate solar power into our company’s overall sustainability plan for some time,” says Greg Koeninger, facilities manager at the Kentucky-headquartered firm. “Our organization is always exploring ways to improve our energy efficiency and reduce our greenhouse gas emissions. When I recommended this solar energy opportunity to our executive team, there was strong support to move forward with the initiative.”
Chad Amos of Nicholasville is a member of Blue Grass Energy. He is an avid Tesla electric car owner who wanted to power his home with renewables.
“The second I heard of the community solar farm, I thought ‘that’s perfect,’” Amos says. “We licensed 49 panels, which powers our whole home. We were very concerned about panels on the roof and yard. I don’t think our neighborhood would have appreciated that.”
At age 73, South Kentucky RECC member Jerry Hatfield sees his lease of 15 solar panels from Cooperative Solar as an investment that will benefit the next generation of his family, especially son Trenton and daughter-in-law Renee, who both served in the Army in Afghanistan and Iraq.
“They will get this house someday,” Hatfield says, “so we wanted
to leave something extra for them in thanks for their service. … It’s the cleanest, cheapest power we can get.”
Hatfield lives on a 75-acre farm in Russell County, and he was the first member of South Kentucky RECC to sign up for the renewable energy project.
“I had been interested in renewables—energy from sun, wind and water—all along, but it was too expensive to do on my own,” he says. “The co-op program offers a reasonable price.”
Anne Cahill is an Owen Electric Cooperative member who lives in Erlanger. Cooperative Solar is a perfect program, she says, to support renewables and because the guidelines of her homeowner’s association do not permit placing a solar panel on her town home’s roof.
“I’m grateful Owen Electric is looking at all means of generating electricity and really support that they are doing this,” she says. “I think it’s a great program. I’m talking it up with my neighbors.”
For Tony Campbell, president and CEO of EKPC, the program boils down to helping members who want renewables to have an attractive, affordable option, without the safety risks involved in maintaining panels on their own roofs.
“Especially for homeowners, private solar installations can be complicated and stressful,” he says. “I know I don’t want to crawl up on my roof to bolt down solar panels. And once they are up there, I don’t want to crawl back up on the roof to fix those panels when something goes wrong.”