February 1, 2023
Inside Alaska could quickly be house to the state’s first neighborhood photo voltaic undertaking

Inside Alaska could quickly be house to the state’s first neighborhood photo voltaic undertaking
Golden Valley’s 3-acre photo voltaic farm on the south aspect of Fairbanks can generate as much as 563 kilowatts. A neighborhood photo voltaic proposal being studied by the co-op’s employees would if accepted permit members to purchase a photo voltaic panel, or portion of a panel, and earn credit based mostly on their panel’s output to use to their month-to-month payments. (GVEA)

Golden Valley Electrical Affiliation is finding out a plan that may permit its members in Inside Alaska to put money into the utility’s solar-energy farm and different amenities to cut back their month-to-month payments and assist the co-op’s efforts to cut back use of fossil fuels.

If accepted, Golden Valley will start making use of subsequent yr for permits on what may very well be Alaska’s first neighborhood photo voltaic undertaking.

Golden Valley has for years allowed members who set up photo voltaic or wind-power methods at their houses to cut back their month-to-month payments with credit they earn after they generate extra electrical energy than they use. However many members aren’t capable of reap the benefits of that program.

solar panels
Volunteers with Solarize Fairbanks, a company that’s selling better use of solar-energy methods, set up rooftop photo voltaic panels on a house in Fairbanks. (Todd Paris)

“Maybe they don’t have a south-facing home, or an excellent roof. Or maybe they’re renters,” mentioned Tom DeLong, who chairs Golden Valley’s board of administrators.

DeLong mentioned that’s why GVEA is contemplating establishing a so-called neighborhood photo voltaic program that may permit these members to skip the upfront and ongoing prices of shopping for and sustaining a solar-energy system. As a substitute, they’d purchase a photo voltaic panel or portion of a panel on the co-op’s photo voltaic farm in Fairbanks. The three-acre facility on the town’s south aspect generates as much as 563 kilowatts — sufficient to energy about 70 houses.

“The neighborhood photo voltaic mannequin makes an attempt to offer these advantages to these individuals (who) possibly can’t afford or don’t need to put money into a standalone system,” he mentioned in an interview Wednesday.

DeLong mentioned a variety of Golden Valley members need to assist the co-op transition from fossil fuels to renewable-sourced power, like photo voltaic. And in response to their curiosity in neighborhood photo voltaic, the co-op’s board gave the GVEA Member Advisory Committee, or MAC, a listing of targets for this system.

“And considered one of them was to make this accessible to moderate- to low-income of us,” he mentioned.

A member of a Fairbanks-based environmental advocacy group agrees.

“We’re excited concerning the alternative to extend the fairness and accessibility of renewable power,” mentioned Kenzley Defler, the Fairbanks Local weather Motion Coalition’s power justice coordinator. She mentioned her group strongly helps the neighborhood photo voltaic proposal.

“It’s a cheap, clear supply of power era, which helps cut back carbon emissions, helps within the transition away from fossil fuels resembling coal and pure fuel,” she mentioned in an interview final week.

DeLong acknowledged that some Golden Valley members aren’t inquisitive about photo voltaic power, however he mentioned all profit from surplus electrical energy generated by photo voltaic. And he emphasised that neighborhood photo voltaic subscribers would cowl the price of this system. And so they might reap the benefits of economies of scale made accessible by GVEA buying many photo voltaic panels at a time.

“In actual fact, we hope that there’s oversubscription and that extra individuals need in on it,” he mentioned. “And in that case, we might make the undertaking greater.

DeLong mentioned the preliminary aim is to have sufficient subscribers to assist a 500 kilowatt photo voltaic farm, sufficient to energy about 70 houses. That funding can be paid again via member financial savings from their month-to-month energy invoice, in keeping with Fairbanks-based power analyst Phil Wight.

“The typical financial savings for a client, in the event that they put money into neighborhood photo voltaic, is 10 %,” Wight mentioned in an interview Wednesday. He mentioned the federal Division of Vitality has set a aim of boosting these financial savings to twenty % of co-op members’ payments by 2025.

Wight mentioned federal assist for neighborhood photo voltaic initiatives ought to encourage Golden Valley’s board to maneuver forward on this system.

“That is an thrilling second, as a result of the Division of Vitality is so centered on this,” he mentioned.

solar panels
Some photo voltaic panels, like these on the Chilly Local weather Housing Analysis Heart in Fairbanks, are mounted on poles or frames as a substitute of on a rooftop. (From CCHRC)

If Golden Valley adopts the neighborhood photo voltaic program, it may very well be the primary within the state. Anchorage-based Chugach Electrical, Alaska’s largest utility, proposed a neighborhood photo voltaic program 5 years in the past, however state regulators rejected it in 2019 as unworkable. A Chugach spokesperson mentioned Wednesday the utility is re-visiting the thought.

Wight mentioned each initiatives are lengthy overdue.

“We’ve had neighborhood photo voltaic in the US since 2007,” he mentioned. “What’s modified now’s that it’s virtually ubiquitous, and Alaska is simply behind the curve. And we’ve received to catch up.”

In keeping with the Nationwide Renewable Vitality Laboratory, neighborhood photo voltaic initiatives have been situated in 39 states and the District of Columbia as of December 2021. NREL mentioned 22 states, together with the District of Columbia, have insurance policies that assist neighborhood photo voltaic.

These insurance policies have helped utilities and nonprofit organizations set up and function neighborhood photo voltaic initiatives, mentioned Wight, who’s additionally an assistant professor of historical past on the College of Alaska Fairbanks. He’s now working with two Anchorage-based nonprofits, the Alaska Heart and Alaska Public Curiosity Analysis Group, to draft laws that may assist promote neighborhood photo voltaic initiatives within the state. He mentioned the measure shall be launched within the coming legislative session.

DeLong mentioned he expects Golden Valley employees to finish a evaluation of the MAC job drive findings by the center of subsequent yr. And he mentioned if it’s favorable and the board strikes forward on this system, GVEA will start submitting for tariffs with the Regulatory Fee of Alaska by the top of 2023.