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Village Council — Solar producers challenge cap

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Should the Village raise its cap on the amount of solar energy it buys from local residences? 

Village Council broached that question at its July 1 regular meeting, as solar producers and those looking to invest in panels crowded Council chambers.

The cap, that 1% of total electricity generated be allowed from local homes, was reached last week, the Village reported. 

The Village received close to 70 applications for residential solar over the last two months after neighbors formed a solar co-op to reduce installation costs. However, the cap was reached after the first 39 applications. 

In memos to Council, Village staff argued for keeping the cap, which amounts to 284 kilowatts, because adding more solar would mean higher rates for non-solar ratepayers.

If the cap was increased from 1% to 3%, the Village would lose about $22,400 per year in net revenue, money not available to maintain the electric system, according to a memo prepared by Village Manager Josue Salmeron and others.

“If we bring all of the solar onto our system, there is no economic opportunity to capture our operations and maintenance expenses,” Salmeron said at the meeting.

By phone, Salmeron added that the Village is not limiting villagers from installing solar, but looking to change how they are compensated, calling the current rate structure “unsustainable.”

Last year, the Village paid local solar producers the retail rate of 11 cents per kilowatt-hour, while it paid an average of 9.2 cents per kWh for all its electricity and  3 cents per kWh for electricity on the open market, according to information presented by municipal power supplier AMP at the meeting. 

But solar advocates challenged the Village’s loss figures, arguing that solar’s benefits should also be taken into account, including their role in reducing peak load and greenhouse gas emissions.

For instance, local solar panels reduce the Village’s peak load by producing electricity on hot, summer afternoons when it is most expensive, said Dan Rudolf, a solar-producing township resident and former Energy Board member. Those peak rates also form the basis for certain annual payments to electric suppliers and distributors.

Rudolf calculated that the cost of raising the cap to 3% would be closer to $8,000 per year with peak load reduction, a small amount considering that the Village spent $3.4 million for electricity last year. 

“It’s a trivial amount of money, and it’s the right thing to do,” Rudolf said.

Matan Mazursky said he sees that villagers are willing to spend tens of thousands of dollars to produce green energy for the Village, without the Village having to invest.

“With the climate crisis happening and villagers wanting to respond by doing something themselves locally, I expect to have a creative process here to let that happen,” Mazursky said.

Council members responded that they weren’t squelching local solar, but looking to find the right balance between buying from local solar producers and keeping electric rates down. 

Council President Brian Housh said he wants to balance lowering the village’s carbon footprint with affordability. 

“We can’t have this have/have-nots scenario,” Housh said. “Some of us can afford to put solar panels on our roof, some cannot, so we want to make a decision that is best for all villagers.”

Council Vice President Marianne MacQueen added that she was interested in keeping the portfolio “affordable and green.”

The Village currently purchases 83% of its electricity from green sources, including hydroelectric, landfill gas, wind and a municipal solar array, and gets 17% from the open market, according to figures from AMP.

According to an AMP representative at the meeting, the Village has the greenest portfolio of its 135 member communities across nine states. But that has come at a cost. Last year the Village paid 9.2 cents per kWh, up from 6.3 cents per kWh in 2015. However, that figure is forecast to drop to 8.1 cents per kWh by 2023.

In 2013, the Village instituted caps limiting solar purchases to 1% of electricity for residential solar and 4% for commercial solar, an amount the Village says is produced entirely by Antioch College’s solar array.

More from AMP’s presentation and other items from Council’s agenda will be in next week’s News.

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