In the summer months, it’s easy to see how taking advantage of up to 19 hours of sunlight a day to harness energy, can lower energy costs.
Satchel Pondolfino, community organizer for Cook Inlet Keeper, facilitates the Solarize project for the Lower Kenai Peninsula. Solarize Homer started meeting in March with a few local residents and business owners planning to collectively install solar panels on their buildings, saving on cost by buying in bulk. Since then, the group has grown to 29. Solarize’s current plan is to install over 500 solar panels and, through their meetings, they’ve chosen a contractor to install them - Alaska Solar, based in Anchorage.
“ It helps bring the cost down by leveraging collective buying power. A group of people who are interested in installing solar together to market that solar need as one project rather than as individual projects. So that creates sort of a bulk value discount, Pondolfino said.
Another way producers of solar energy plan to bring costs down is through net metering through Homer Electric Association. Most solar consumers don’t go completely off the grid, they’re HEA members. Net metering gives solar producers an energy credit for selling the excess power they generate back to HEA. Use of solar power has grown in HEA’s service area to the point where the cap for how much energy they will buy back from members, will soon have to be raised in order for new solar producers to take part.
“And it has required caps on what the percentage of solar being sold to the grid can be the success of this Solarize program has gotten us really close to that cap for HEA prompting HEA, to really consider whether they're going to raise that cap again. But they were actually the first utility on the rail belt to raise the cap. Initially they raised it from 1.5% to 3%, and we're close to that now,” said Pondolfino.
HEA’s Renewable Energy Committee meets Tuesday, July 14 at 10:30 a.m. in advance of their regular board of director’s meeting at noon. HEA Board member, Jim Levine of Homer, is on that committee and says there will be a presentation at the meeting, on net metering for HEA members and whether there is a way to structure the program without a cap,” said Levine.
HEA won’t be deciding anything Tuesday. The board is hoping to hold an in-person retreat in the fall where they will make decisions about the net metering program. Tuesday’s meeting begin with a presentation by HEA staff.
“Susan Oliver number services supervisor, she'll give a presentation on the rate structure. Tyler Cheatwood is an engineering project specialist. He'll give a presentation on the and nuts and bolts of the net metering system kind of go about signing up. The third person will be J. D. Draves. He's our regulatory affairs and rate manager for RCA,” said Levine.
Pondolfino says raising the cap is crucial to increasing production of solar energy on the Peninsula. There is still room for more participants but Solarize is not experiencing a shortage of interest. Of the 29 Solarize project members, most are homeowners. One notable exception – The Grog Shop on Pioneer Avenue. Owner, and KBBI Board Member Mel Strydom, is installing the maximum number of solar panels allowed by the Regulatory Commission of Alaska.
“Putting on nearly 80 panels to The Grog Shop. I think that's a 25 kilowatt system, right in downtown Homer. Everyone will be able to see it. And that tends to have a ripple. When they see their neighbors are doing it, it allows them to conceptualize how that could become realistic for them,” said Pondolfino.
For more information on how to participate in Cook Inlet Keeper’s Solarize project, call the contractors at Alaska Solar.