Going Solar

I am increasingly discouraged about the environment. The clean-energy movement has stalled. The global warming-deniers are everywhere, even in New Mexico which provides the best possible environment for clean energy. We have abundant sunshine and abundant wind. New Mexico has tremendous reserves of natural gas which is 50% cleaner than oil if we can only figure out how to tap it without completely destroying water sources. The economic markets under-price the true costs of global warming. Free enterprise (e.g., the capitalists) will only invest in clean and renewable energy if given government supported incentives or threated with  government-imposed regulations.

I know that the individual actions of people like me are little-bitty blips in the big picture, but it gives me a personal satisfaction to do something. So, I have gone solar–I have a solar Photo-voltaic system on my roof that generates 80% of the electricity I use in my house.

In 2009 I met Janet and Mellow Honek through a MoveOn event I hosted at my house. They had recently moved to Las Cruces from southern California and were starting Sunspot Energy, a business to install solar photovoltaic systems. The area already had a few solar system installers–a company from Albuquerque had installed a few systems in town and another local company was installing solar heated water systems. I invited the Honeks to come to the house and give me a bid. Mellow gave a very detailed presentation and left it with me to mull over. I became their first customer in Las Cruces.

I was already inclined to take the plunge and all the public incentives available softened the purchasing sting. New Mexico offers incentives to renewable energy purchasers and imposes a renewable energy requirement on electric companies. The incentive is a 10% tax credit to purchasers. Electric utilities are required to provide renewable energy certificates (RECs) to producers of clean energy from whom they buy. When a personal solar system is directly tied into the grid, any extra energy it produces flows into the grid and the owner receives a REC credit.

My electric utility is El Paso Electric (EPE) which serves west Texas and southern New Mexico. El Paso Electric is in a bit of clean-energy pickle. It has very few sources for clean energy while the state of New Mexico requires a minimum renewable energy generation percentage. It also has very expensive rates and is at full capacity. Our base rate per kWh in 2010 was 45% higher than the base rate from PNM, the largest utility in the state. EPE has announced plans to build an active solar system (mirrors track the sun) in southern new New Mexico in 2013. It the meantime, it had negotiated with the state Public Utilities Commission to provide a REC credit of .13 per kWh (now down to .12 for new customers) which is roughly .02 higher than the rate it charges to its customers.

The federal government was also offering a 30% tax credit on renewal energy improvement. (I’m not sure if it is still in effect). So, despite the relative inefficiency of current solar PV technology, expected returns would pay off an initial investment in about 15 years. My system cost just under $24,000. I received around $7200 in tax credits from the Feds and $2400 in tax credits from the state. Lots of red tape is involved in obtaining the credits and RECs but Janet did all the hard work.

My system was installed in October of 2009. I was Sunspot’s first customer. The installation took about a week and was a good learning experience for Sunspot. Sunspot has now installed over 100 systems. EPE reports over 200 systems are tied to the grid here. Here’s a Google Map for my local area (roughly 20% of the city). Each point marks a probable PV system that I can see from the zoomed-in view. The aerials for this map were taken in June of 2010.

Click the map to get details.

My system was configured to give me a zero electric bill at current rates. 17 months later, I am very pleased. I have actually made money (automatically deposited into my checking account). I earn most of my credits during spring and fall and occasionally have to pay a bill in July or August. Consumption doubles in the summer because of air-conditioning and increases slightly in the winter for lighting and air circulation from the gas furnace.

Here’s the December statement from EPE:

I have a 2 meters: a smart meter and a local meter. The smart meter provides two readings: 5496 (total consumption) and 3893 (total generated energy out). I used 326 kilowatt kWhs and but netted  273 kWhs out . I was charged for the difference of 53KWh with taxes and adjustments came to 13.28. The local meter shows that I generated 380 kWHs independent of use and received a credit of 49.40. So, I received a credit of $36.14. The adjustment of $50.22 was the payment of my credit from the previous month.

In effect, every kWh I generate is worth .1079 (to offset use) +.13 (REC) or nearly .24/kWH. It’s actually better than that during the summer because EP has a two tier pricing system in which the first 500 kWh are charged at the usual rate and the rest at a more expensive rate. I never net use enough to reach that more expensive rate.

My system has now generated more than 8000 kWh. The system is very reliable because the only moving parts are the electrons and meter dials. Occasional rains wash the dust off the panels.

My monitoring system is connected to the internet. Click here to see how it’s doing.


About ViAnn

Progressive retired geek who loves to play golf
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