Original Article: http://www.pal-item.com/article/20101108/NEWS01/11080320
Utility considers allowing customers with wind, solar power or generators to sell power back
By Pam Tharp • Correspondent • November 8, 2010
Richmond Power & Light customers who also generate their own power might soon be able to sell extra kilowatts to RP&L.
Customers with wind or solar power systems or generators could sell their excess power back to the electrical grid if RP&L adopts a net metering ordinance, RP&L general manager Steve Saum said. The RP&L board will review a proposed ordinance for net metering at its Nov. 15 meeting.
The amount of electricity a customer could sell to the grid is limited to 10 kilowatts at any one time. Customers with higher generation capacity would need an agreement with the Indiana Municipal Power Agency, Saum said.
RP&L charges its customers 7.5 to 8 cents per kilowatt hour. Customers with extra power to sell would be paid at half of that rate, about 4.5 cents, because the higher rate includes the utility’s fixed costs for line maintenance and overhead, Saum said.
Saum’s unsure how many customers are generating power using solar panels or wind turbines but said he’s had some inquiries about selling power back to the grid.
“Green” energy systems that power the sustainable living house at Centerville’s Cope Environmental Center have transferred 540 kilowatts to Whitewater Valley REMC since April 2009, said Cope executive director Stephanie Hays-Mussoni. A 1-kilowatt wind turbine and a 900-watt solar panel power the sustainable living house.
Cope staff gets numerous inquiries about wind and solar power for home use, Hays-Mussoni said. Few follow through because of the substantial capital investment required — about $20,000 to $25,000 for the systems and extra insulation, she said.
“We aren’t currently selling the power back, but it does go back to the grid,” Hays-Mussoni said. “It’s not a whole lot of power. The turbine and solar panel provide 60 percent of the energy used by the residents of the sustainable house throughout the year. The systems don’t provide energy all the time because sometimes the sun doesn’t shine and the wind doesn’t blow.”
A disconnect switch is required for any system that would send power back to RP&L or other utilities. The switch automatically disconnects the private system line from the utility during a power failure, Saum said. Without the switch, a lineman working on a power failure issue could be injured by electricity flowing back into the line from a home generation system. The disconnect switch also must be inspected by the city building inspector before power sales can begin, Saum said.
RP&L board member Larry Parker was concerned earlier this week about the safety of RP&L linemen if a power outage occurred.
“How will we know if the disconnect switch has been installed?” Parker asked. “I don’t want one of our linemen being killed because of this.”
Those who enroll in the net metering program would be required to sign a form verifying the disconnect switch was installed, Saum said. Linemen also are trained to be cautious during outages, he said.
“If the line is out and we see lights, they know there’s a generator or something producing power in the home,” Saum said.
Board member Jack Elstro questioned the wisdom of the program.
“Why do we want to do this? To me, it’s foolish,” Elstro said.
The Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission is encouraging utilities to allow customers who generate excess electrical power to sell it to the power grid, Saum said.
“The IURC is trying to push it pretty hard. They’ve had complaints from customers whose utility didn’t have a net metering ordinance,” Saum said. “It’s not mandatory yet for utilities to do this. We’re trying to be proactive and be ready to handle it.”
For more information
A customer interested in selling electricity to Richmond Power & Light should contact the utility for additional information, RP&L manager Steve Saum said. The net metering agreement is a legal document that includes acceptance of liability, and the required disconnect switch must be inspected and approved by the city of Richmond’s building inspector, Saum said.
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This article brought to you by the Indiana Renewable Energy Association.