New solar panel carports could save MSU $10 million in electricity costs
New solar panels are installed on Michigan State University's campus over the parking lot at Hagadorn and Service Roads pictured on Tuesday, Aug. 29, 2017.
MSU is going greener than ever with new solar carports that’ll keep cars shaded and money in their savings.
These new campus parking bays will accumulate energy from the sun, produce electricity and keep the air clean while protecting cars from heat, rain and snow according to physics professor and Office of the Executive Vice President Senior Consultant Wolfgang Bauer.According to Bauer, MSU has a 25-year power purchase agreement with the private company Inovateus Solar that says it will carry all the risks while MSU guarantees they will buy all the electricity that the solar panels use.
“The peak power that the solar arrays, once they’re all done, will produce is about 18 percent of campus’s peak power demand,” Bauer said.
There are currently four parking lots along Service road that are in various stages of being partially completed. Lot 91 on Hagadorn road already has solar panels up and by the end of the year all of the parking lots will be completed.
“Throughout this fall semester there will be a huge effort on these parking lots and there will be one segment at a time will be closed,” Bauer said.
Each individual unit is comprised of 3–by–6 solar panels. There are approximately 40,000 panels that cover 5,000 parking spots and an overall area of about 45 acres of land, according to Bauer.
Inovateus Solar Account Executive Jordan Richardson remarked that MSU’s 13 megawatt solar panel project isn’t the largest their company has done, but is definitely the largest carport in North America.
These solar panels will save the university about $10 million in electricity costs over the next 25 years, according to Bauer, and those savings could be available for other things, including better instructional spaces or even paying for teaching assistants.
“It’s very easy to be green when you’re willing to put a lot of money into it, but we don’t have that luxury," Bauer said. "We have to save money at the same time and so it shows that a university of our size can be green in terms of its energy portfolio and at the same time being green in terms of its pocket book. We’re saving money.”
These solar arrays could produce enough electricity for almost 1,800 Michigan households and it is equivalent to planting 15,000 trees each year for the next 25 years, according to Bauer.
Richardson called MSU’s thinking "very creative" because instead of digging holes in a random area to produce electricity, they are utilizing land that’s already consumed by students' cars every day.
As America’s utilities move to a future of renewable energy, storage and electric vehicles, some have to be prodded along, and others are being dragged kicking and screaming into the 21st century.
While this week pv magazine has reported on major settlements in Florida and Colorado which will result in up to 1.4 GW of new solar coming online, we and many other media outlets missed a settlement between Ohio’s AEP and environmental groups last Friday which finalizes a 2015 agreement for the utility to procure and/or build 400 MW of solar and 500 MW of wind in Ohio over the next four years.
Specifically, the settlement spells out mechanisms for AEP to either procure this solar or build it itself, in either case paid for through a rider on customers bills. The utility will also have the option to participate in power purchase agreements between large commercial and industrial customers and third-party-owned wind and solar projects – an approach that has been increasingly popular for utilities that want to still get in on the action when such customers seek out renewable generation on their own.
In addition, under the settlement AEP is withdrawing a more than three-fold proposed increase in fixed charges for its residential customers. This charge will now remain at $5 per month instead of the $18.40 which the utility had sought, a major win for distributed solar and energy efficiency.
Additionally AEP will invest $10.5 million in one or more microgrid projects and $10.5 million in an electric vehicle charging rebate program, as well as implementing a new cost recovery mechanism for projects related to the state’s PowerForward grid modernization effort, as well as the Smart City program in Columbus.
These are significant victories for Sierra Club as well as Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) and Ohio Environmental Council (OEC), which later joined the settlement. However, these organizations were not able to stop a coal bailout and AEP will still receive funding through 2024 for its share of two ancient coal plants owned by the Ohio Valley Electric Corporation (OVEC).
The OVEC bailout is currently being contested at the Ohio Supreme Court, and is being challenged through various means by Sierra Club, EDF and OEC. Significantly, the OVEC payments are procedurally separate from the solar and wind procurement, meaning that if they are overturned the wind and solar procurement will not be affected.
The entire package now goes to the Public Utility Commission of Ohio (PUCO), but as of yet no timeline for the process or a decision has been set.
TRAVERSE CITY — The future of Traverse City's green energy goal is looking brighter than ever.
Traverse City Light & Power officials recently voted to approve a special green rate for the city as part of a deal where the city will buy the output of Heritage Sustainable Energy's planned solar array, TCL&P Executive Director Tim Arends said.
The city will pay an extra 0.2 cents per kilowatt-hour for all municipal operations, Arends previously said. That amount represents the difference between the cost of the solar array's energy and the utility's avoided cost in buying it. TCL&P will adjust the surcharge every year of the 20-year, fixed contract, and the surcharge could become a credit if prices for power on the open market rise.
City leaders voted in July to buy the solar array's output as a means of furthering the city's goal of powering all government operations with renewable energy by 2020, as previously reported. Energy from Heritage's 1-megawatt solar array will push the city's green energy consumption to 21 percent from the current 10 percent. It's planned for land along M-72 near a wind turbine the company also owns.
TCL&P, Heritage and city officials had signed off on the agreements as of Wednesday, Arends said. The utility also has contracted an engineering firm to seek bids for power grid enhancements needed to get the solar array's output on the utility's system.
"So we're good to go, we're waiting for the project to be installed," he said.
Construction on the array should begin within two weeks, Heritage CEO Marty Lagina said. It should be operational by Oct. 1.
Heritage Sustainable Energy hazarded that city commissioners intended to move ahead with the deal, and ordered solar panels before the city approved it, Lagina said. The company's contractor has started to take delivery of the panels.
"We took a chance that the city was serious, and they were," he said. "They put their money where their mouth is, and we took a chance on that and ordered all of this stuff months ago."
TCL&P will ask the Downtown Development Authority and the utility's own board if they want to participate in the green rate, Arends said.
Bill Golden, DDA board chairman, said he didn't know enough about the subject to comment.
TCL&P board Chairman Jan Geht said he's not in favor of the utility paying the green rate for its own operations. He'd rather find out about offers from other companies, especially Spartan Renewable Energy. The agreement between Heritage and TCL&P isn't contingent on the utility or DDA agreeing to the green rate as well.
"It's really more of government units having the opportunity to claim that source of energy as properly theirs, and we may choose that we want to claim a different renewable energy source as ours," he said.
A contentious proposal by NV Energy to restructure energy rates for millions of residential customers to comply with a legislative measure aimed at restoring a favorable program for rooftop solar customers is “dead on arrival” — according to the utility.
“Because the revenue-neutral implementation of AB405 filed on July 28 is already dead on arrival, a different mechanism for avoiding an intentional and purposeful under-collection of just and reasonable rates must be crafted in order to avoid a legal deficiency,” NV Energy attorney Elizabeth Elliot said.
Nevertheless, the staunch debate over how to best implement legislative directives over net metering rates — a credit paid to qualified rooftop solar customers who produce excess energy that’s sold back to the electric grid — is likely to prove challenging, with the first of three days of hearings on the application stretching late into the day Monday and with legislatively set deadlines to implement the law quickly approaching.
Lawmakers in 2017 legislative session overwhelmingly voted in favor of AB405, which was designed to kickstart Nevada’s moribund rooftop solar industry by implementing tiers, or “tranches,” in which net metering applicants would be reimbursed for energy put back on the grid at a percentage rate of the retail price of electricity. The “tranches” would start at 95 percent of the retail price for the first 80 megawatts worth of applicants (1 megawatt can power several hundred homes), and would decrease on a percentage basis for each additional 80 megawatts of applicants until hitting a floor of 75 percent.
But NV Energy officials said that the mandates in the legislation — specifically the requirement that utilities not charge net metering customers any fee or charge different than a standard customer — placed undue burdens on the company, and said that it didn’t lay out any pathway forward for existing net metering customers who were not grandfathered into the rates set previous to Dec. 31, 2015, when the PUC controversially slashed net metering rates under direction from the 2015 Legislature.
Elliot said the legislation did not provide any guidance or indication as to whether or not the change in rates should be revenue-neutral for the utility and that there was “no conceivable legal or fair basis” on which to treat net metering customers differently than any other class of customer.
“There is no support in AB405 or legislative record for the notion that AB405 should result in the intentional and purposeful under collection of just and reasonable rates,” she said.
But rooftop solar companies and industry groups have loudly protested the proposed changes in rates, saying the wholesale changes proposed in the application would slow down the launch of the state’s rooftop solar industry. Kevin Fox, an attorney representing Sunrun, dismissed the proposal as a “waste” of the PUC’s time.
“NV Energy’s proposal is unnecessary, procedurally defective and contrary to the intent of AB405,” he said.
NV Energy officially testified neutral on the bill during the legislative session, but warned that fully implementing the measure would cost around $42.3 million.
The original proposed change in the basic service charge (from $12.75 to $16.57 a month in southern Nevada and $15.25 to $17.58 a month in northern Nevada) would apply to all electric customers served by the utility, with a corresponding decrease in the volumetric charge — the portion of an electric bill based on actual electricity usage — theoretically making the change in rates revenue neutral for the average customer and utility itself.
The state’s Bureau of Consumer Protection, a subdivision of the attorney general’s office that represents the public in utilities issues, also opposed the proposal. In prepared testimony, BCP analyst Bing Young called the proposal to combine rate classes as a “sort of Trojan horse to achieve ends or corporate goals far beyond any that were anticipated or even were publicly discussed during the Legislative Session.”
In a filing dated Aug. 18, PUC staff recommended that the commission not modify rates for all customers, and instead just re-integrate the rate classes, keep the existing rates and charges while adding a temporary tariff rider that would be confirmed or changed in the next general rate case — the normal regulatory process in which utilities propose changes to rates.
The next hearings are scheduled to start at 10 a.m. on Tuesday and Wednesday. Under the law, most sections of AB405 became effective upon the governor signing the bill, but other aspects will take affect on Sept. 1.
Mike Straeter of Ag Technologies Inc. explains how to use SolarCAM, invented by his father, Jim Straeter. "It's easy to loosen this up without getting wrenches out or anything." Mike said. The panels can be raised or lowered with a crank system.
Rochester inventor Jim Straeter has his eyes set on improving the solar industry’s energy efficiency and economic value.
At a young age, he kindled a passion for two things: farm equipment and renewable energy.
“My dad was a farm equipment dealer,” Straeter said. “He was always interested in better farming practices, so that’s probably where it started.”
Straeter now owns seven New Holland Agriculture dealerships in north-central Indiana. He started Ag Technologies Inc. in 2012, which specializes in farm equipment technology. Ag Technologies introduced SolarCAM, a patented system that enables solar panels to adjust positions easily according to seasons for better sun access.
When Straeter tested the product with his customers, the results blew him away.
“We’re having an excellent year with solar,” he said. “The size of our installments has continued to increase over the five years we’ve been at it.
At first, Ag Technologies installed 32 to 64 solar panels per customer. Straeter said that number now reaches up to 4,000 for his largest customers.
The company started out with two customers, whose combined systems totaled 25 kilowatts of energy production. Five years later, Straeter’s company has 124 customers and is on track to hit 3,000 kilowatt hours in 2017. And the orders are still coming in.
“It’s the only renewable energy technology that pays for itself,” Straeter said. “The energy you use is going to be priced by someone else, and there’s nothing you can do about that.”
Investors in solar can benefit from net metering, which calculates the amount of money that can be credited back to a consumer’s electric bill for the extra energy they produce on the grid.
Solar power is subsidized by the U.S. government with a 30 percent investment tax credit that will start declining at the end of 2019. But, according to Straeter, solar is viable enough that it can easily survive without that tax credit.
“So you can imagine,” he added, “that right now it’s really a good deal.”
That’s what convinced Stan Musgrave, 75, to invest in solar power for his Rochester home almost four years ago.
“The first three years are really great on the taxes,” Musgrave said. “Economically, I think it makes sense in the long run.”
His unit of 64 solar panels cost $47,000. Musgrave said it would take him just 12 years to pay it off. The benefits, he said, have already started to show.
“I have almost a total electric house,” Musgrave said. “We have an electric bill probably December through March. The rest of the time is billing with credit.”
Like Musgrave, many solar investors benefit from net metering,
“It’s pure economics,” Straeter said. “They can put it in and get their money back in seven or eight years. The system is warranted for 25 years and will probably last 40. That’s 22 years of free electricity.”
Renewables come at a cost
Though Straeter has seen increased interest in solar from his customers, overall renewable energy usage is still relatively low.
In 2016, 15 percent of electricity generated in the U.S. came from renewables; the rest consisted of traditional fossil fuels. The U.S. Energy Information Administration found that less than one percent of that total was solar generated.
Indiana’s solar output contributes even less, at 0.2 percent of all energy produced in 2015.
“I think solar growth is substantial enough to say that the general trend is positive, but it’s a small fish in a very big pond,” Straeter observed. “What has to happen is policy change in order to achieve substantial growth. Unfortunately, in Indiana it’s going the other direction.”
The governor signed a controversial solar bill into law this year that will reduce the amount of money credited back to solar investors for extra energy generated. Hoosiers who currently use net metering will be grandfathered in for 30 years. Those who install solar units in the next five years will be grandfathered at a full retail price until 2032.
Solar generators now receive from 11 to 13 cents per kilowatt-hour for extra energy they produce. After 2022, that will fall to roughly 4 cents.
Another concern, Straeter said, is that the renewable energy industry sometimes over-promises what its equipment can do.
“Don’t believe the computer models or the brochure or anything. Make sure you look at an actual system that’s doing what the vendor said it’s supposed to do,” he warned. “And if they can’t take you to a system that’s doing exactly what they say it’s supposed to do, then run.”
To prove his company is legitimate, Straeter installed a solar unit at the New Holland Rochester dealership so he can personally show customers how it works.
Straeter isn’t worried about the challenges facing the renewable energy industry. He plans to keep doing business as usual.
“With the tilting stand that we’ve patented, the efficiency is better than any fixture out there,” he said of his company’s solar panels. “I think we’re going to be fine.”