June 8th, 2017 by Steve Hanley
El Paso Electric has powered up the largest community solar grid in the state of Texas. As a kind of trolling of the outgoing pollution industry (unintentional trolling, we would presume), the community solar facility is located next to an existing natural gas generating facility. It’s a 21 acre solar farm, which would be hard to miss, and has a max output of 3 megawatts of power thanks to the whopping 33,000 solar panels in the “farm.” Basically, this makes it “commercial scale” more than “utility scale” (large solar farms go into the hundreds of megawatts), but the “community solar” designation means that consumers can buy into the ownership and rewards of the solar project.
The community solar farm “is currently maxed out at 1,500 customers with an additional 500 customers on a waiting list,” Fox News reports. (Yes, Fox News.)
The solar panels are mounted to racks that tilt to follow the sun during the day, maximizing efficiency. Each has been treated with a special coating to reduce the reflected heat they give off on a sunny Texas day, something that has proven hazardous to birds in some areas.
El Paso Electric began the permitting process in June of 2015. Construction began in November of last year. Enrollment opened in March 2017. And the community solar project was fully subscribed by the end of April. In other words, there seems to be clear and strong demand for community solar power opportunities … even in Texas (which already has large and well known wind power and natural gas industries).
“This is actually one of the first facilities where we actually now own it. And now with our customers voluntarily being part of that program it becomes a program I think our customers will be proud to see,” said Eddie Gutierrez, a spokesperson for El Paso Electric.
Community solar is designed to meet the needs of people who can’t have rooftop solar of their own, like renters and condo dwellers. There’s a large portion of the population that simply doesn’t have a roof they can put solar panels on in order to clean up their electricity supply, or who perhaps have a roof but one that is not able to produce a lot of solar power (often due to shading). Community solar is the solution that allows them (you?) to go solar as well.
Subscribers pay a fixed rate of $20.96 per kilowatt per month for their community solar power. That’s higher than the regular retail rate in the area but it protects customers from any price increases for conventional power in the future, which are likely. Subscribers must sign up for a minimum of one kilowatt but can add to their subscription in half-kilowatt increments. Pricing details are available on the company website.
A one-year agreement with El Paso Electric is required initially, but customers are free to leave the program at any time after the expiration of the first year. The membership is portable, provided the subscriber moves to another location in the EPE service area. El Paso Electric is planning similar community solar projects for subscribers in New Mexico in the near future.
“Utility community solar programs have proven to be successful around the nation as electric utilities are able to utilize cost effective utility-scale solar resources in developing customer offerings, and EPE is excited to bring this new program to our community,” says former EL Paso Electric CEO Tom Schokley. (What are the odds that a utility company CEO would be named Schokley?)