Nov
11
2019
Yellow Springs
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Village Council

Village Council— Solar compromise sought

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Village Council is close to changing how local solar producers are compensated for the excess power they send to the grid.

Under new interconnection rules, all villagers who produce solar energy at their homes will now get nine cents for every kilowatt-hour they produce, down from the previous rate of 11 cents per kWh.

At the same time, the amended ordinance would eliminate the Village’s cap on how much electricity it purchases from local homes. That cap, previously set at 1%, was reached in July when the local electric utility was inundated with residential solar applications after a new solar purchasing co-op started here.

The proposal is garnering praise from many local solar producers, who say they are grateful that the cap was lifted and are happy to pay their fair share to help maintain the grid. A few villagers, however, have expressed concerns that the new ordinance makes the large financial investment in a solar system less secure, in part because the compensation rate would change annually.

Council voted unanimously to move the new ordinance ahead at its Aug. 19 meeting. A public hearing and second reading of the ordinance will be at Council’s next meeting, Tuesday, Sept. 3, at 7 p.m. in Council chambers.

Speaking at the Aug. 19 Council meeting, Dan Rudolf, a former Energy Board member who has a solar array on his township property, called the proposal “very progressive and positive.”

“It does a good job of promoting solar while still making sure that the infrastructure is here,” he said.

Also speaking from the floor was Tim Barhorst, who is looking to install solar on his property and said he worried  about a future Council “nullifying or changing this agreement radically.”

“I’m making a long-term investment,” he said, “and if Council comes along in five years and says, ‘I’m not going to honor it,’ is there any guarantee I can have some continuity here?”

After the issue arose at his very first Council meeting, Village Manager Josue Salmeron led the effort to re-write the policy in collaboration with local solar producers.

Salmeron has said that non-solar producers should not subsidize local solar producers, who he contended were not paying enough to help maintain the municipal electric system.

At the Council meeting, Salmeron called the ordinance “a lasting solution to the existing cap on solar energy, while also ensuring the Village electric enterprise (municipal power) is financially sustainable.”

In a later interview, Salmeron emphasized the equitable nature of the proposal.

“It is an equitable way to spread the maintenance costs by spreading the power costs onto all consumers,” he said.

Previously, Salmeron calculated that if the residential solar cap were raised to 3%, the village would lose $22,000 per year to solar electricity generators.

Currently there are 27 local homes producing solar energy and connected to the grid, according to the Village this week. Those homes are also subject to the new rules and will not be grandfathered in under their previous interconnection agreements, Salmeron confirmed. While the former practice was called “net metering” because the rate was the same for the Village whether it was buying from, or selling power to, local homes, the new arrangement is called “net billing.”

In response to a question from Council, Salmeron said that nine cents was chosen as the new compensation rate because it is on average what the Village spent to purchase electricity from its contracts and the open market over the last year. That figure will change on an annual basis, Salmeron added.

“Next year as our average power supply cost changes, that figure would change,” he explained.

In another ordinance change, those with solar systems greater than 10kW will now  be subject to “demand charges,” which are extra fees for using large amounts of power. Previously, the threshold was 25kW.

Salmeron said that the lower figure was chosen because the average residential energy use in the village was 7kW, and that those using more should pay more, even if they are producing some of the energy they use.

“It allows us to allocate the costs of power demand to the ones using it,” he said. “Those customers [who use more than 10kW] should bear the burden of the costs.”

There are about eight to 10 local solar generators with more than 10kW installed, according ot the Village.

Voices support plan

Eric Johnson, who has installed 10.9kWs of solar at his High Street home, is one solar producer who sees the new compensation rate as fair.

Johnson was also pleasantly surprised that the cap was lifted entirely rather than merely increased, which he thinks may pave the way for a major uptick in local solar.

“We didn’t expect the cap to be removed,” Johnson said. “Yellow Springs may become the highest per capita residential solar generator in the country.”

Johnson was also grateful that the Village acted so quickly, as those who have signed up for solar through the co-op must install it by Dec. 31, 2019, to receive tax credits expiring at the end of the year.

Since June, the Village received 57 solar applications, largely due to the new co-op, Solar United Neighbors, becoming active here. If the ordinance passes, all of those projects can now move ahead.

That’s good news to local climate action group Mothers Out Front. In a statement, the group’s co-leaders wrote that they “strongly support” the ordinance changes, which they called a “forward-thinking solution to help us address the growing climate crisis.”

“The changes … are fair and will help homeowners and businesses expand investment in distributed solar generation in Yellow Springs without hitting a cap, which is the best outcome of this process,” the statement reads.

Mothers Out Front, whose co-leaders are Christine Reedy, Laura Skidmore and Jennifer Knickerbocker, also expressed gratitude for Village leadership’s eagerness to solve the time-sensitive issue.

At the Council meeting, Dave Greco, who referred to himself as a “future solar producer” also expressed his support for the proposal. He sees the two cent difference between the amount he will pay for electricity and the amount he will receive for producing it as akin to being charged to use the Village’s grid as a battery.

“Paying two cents per kilowatt-hour for a ‘big battery’ is a really good deal for me and a good way to share the costs in an equitable fashion,” he said.

Some concerns raised

In recent emails, Brett Henderson of Yellow Springs Solar, a local solar developer, expressed his dismay with several aspects of the new ordinance.

One of Henderson’s concerns is that existing local solar producers weren’t grandfathered in under their previous interconnection agreements with the Village. Because solar systems are long-term investments, Henderson wrote, ordinance changes can add more risk, and banks may raise interest rates for solar loans as a result.

“Grandfathering … mitigates risk by providing the reassurance that a utility will not pull the rug out from under an investment that takes 25 years to earn its projected returns,” Henderson wrote.

Another concern for Henderson is the new demand charges for residences who have installed more than 10kW of solar. Those producers will now pay $10 per kilowatt-hour if they use more than 10kWh, which Henderson believes is unfair.

“If this policy is centered around equity, then it seems fair to make all large residential users in the Village pay the demand charge — not just those who choose to go solar,” Henderson wrote in an email.

However, Johnson, whose solar system is greater than 10kW because he has arrays on both his home and an accessory dwelling, is not too worried about the demand charges. For one, the charges only kick in when several large appliances are operating simultaneously. In addition, paying more may help him conserve more at certain times, he said.

“I like it because it’s encouraging me to pay attention to my energy and the way it impacts the village,” Johnson said.

In other Council business—

Pool rate rise mostly for nonresidents

The first reading of an ordinance raising rates at Gaunt Park pool next season passed with some changes. Council decided to add a new category for day pass users who are residents, and keep those rates static.

Previously, Council members have said they have wanted to pass more of the costs to run the municipal pool — which loses money each year — to nonresidents.

Salmeron reported that over the last few months pool staff tracked admissions to the pool and learned that daily admission sales for nonresidents were four times higher than residents, 3,104 and 752 respectively. Season passes, meanwhile, were sold to 154 residents and 11 nonresidents this season.

Rates are set to increase for nonresident day passes from $5 to $8.50 for adults and $3.50 to $4 for children over four. Season pass rates will go up by about $3 per year for residents, and around $17 per year for nonresidents, according to the new ordinance.

Temporary transportation projects

Council President Brian Housh said the Village would initiate a few temporary transportation projects in line with the recently completed Active Transportation Plan.

The first project the Village will test is to make Walnut Street a one-way street southbound from Elm Street to Limestone Street. That rose to the top of the list due to concerns during student drop-off and pick-up at Mills Lawn Elementary School, Housh said.

“It’s an accident waiting to happen,” he said.

Other possible projects include a raised “table-top” crosswalk across Dayton Street at Winter Street, closing off Short Street to vehicles and moving the traffic light from the intersection of Corry Street and Xenia Avenue to Xenia Avenue and Dayton Street and turning the Corry and Xenia intersection into a four-way stop.

Strong gun stance

Council unanimously passed a resolution urging the state government to pass gun control laws and to return local control over gun policies to municipalities. A letter to Ohio Governor Mike DeWine to take action on legislative reforms to address gun violence was also presented.

Council’s next meeting is Tuesday, Sept. 3, at 7  p.m. in Council Chambers.

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