Waynesville hopes to spark residential solar generation
Unlike most North Carolina municipalities, the Town of Waynesville operates its own electric service, giving it greater local control over billing, rates and policies that monopolies like Duke Energy don’t offer.
Last week, aldermen exercised that control by approving a policy that makes the town much more friendly to customers who want to generate solar power for their own use and for the grid as a whole, while also fighting climate change.
“We are up against the wall,” said Alderman Jon Feichter, who’s taken the lead on pushing Waynesville into a more solar-friendly posture. “Our lives are fundamentally going to change for the worse if we don’t do something ASAP. What I want this to do is to help spur solar power development in the town of Waynesville for our customers.”
Source: N.C. Clean Energy Plan
On April 26, after months of discussion, aldermen formalized what had been an ad-hoc solar electricity rate schedule that will now give customers solid data on the cost-benefits of incorporating solar energy into their household budgets.
“What that rate schedule does is, if I have a solar array on my house, that rate schedule specifies not only what I pay for electricity I use from the grid, but it specifies what the town will pay for electricity that goes onto the grid,” Feichter said.
Homeowners would need to purchase and install a solar array, and would also need a new bi-directional meter that can handle energy traveling both in and out, as opposed to standard metering technology that only measures energy coming into the home.
Per the policy, some residential generators would also have to pay for a transformer with greater capacity, about $1,200. Solar advocates are adamantly opposed to this, however, it’s possible that cost could eventually change.
“I think we’ve had lots of input, and I don’t think everyone got exactly what they wanted,” said Alderman Anthony Sutton. “So it’s actually a good thing that we’re getting compromise from the town side, from the installer side and from the customer side.”
Although the entire policy is yet to be fully fleshed out, the most important part of it — the rate — was settled.
Right now, the town buys electricity from South Carolina-based energy company Santee Cooper at about 4 cents per kilowatt hour. The town then turns around and sells it to customers at around 11 cents retail.
The rate established by the town is pegged to that retail price, meaning the town will pay solar generators 1.25 cents less than whatever customers pay the town for electricity.
That setup allows the town a small profit to ensure it doesn’t end up bankrupting the electric fund. Profits from the town’s electricity sales go toward maintaining its power infrastructure, everything from lines to poles to paying the people who work on them. If the town’s electric operation isn’t run efficiently, the electric fund would need periodic cash infusions from the general fund — something nobody wants to have to do.
Under such a reimbursement regimen, no actual cash would change hands.
“For example, in the summer when there’s plenty of sunshine you pulled $50 worth of electricity off the grid, but your solar array generated $100 of electricity,” Feichter said of his preferred method of billing. “So what the town would do is give you a credit for $50 on your bill, and that would carry forward until you use those credits. And then we get to November. Your panels aren’t generating near as much electricity, you pulled $100 off the grid and your panels only generated $50. We would essentially debit your credit bank for the $50.”
Those credits, however, aren’t unlimited. The town’s intent is not to subsidize large-scale moneymaking solar generation schemes, so on March 31 of every year, all remaining unused credits would be zeroed-out.
Even with protections built into the rate schedule, the town will likely see a decrease in electric fund revenue as more solar generators come online because it is passing up the chance to buy some of Santee Cooper’s kilowatt hours at 4 cents by instead purchasing residential solar energy from its customers at around 10 cents.
A study by Utility Technology Engineers-Consultants (UTEC) warns that this could cost the town upwards of $100,000 a year in lost revenue across residential, commercial and municipal rate classes. Feichter doesn’t think that’s going to happen, but some decrease in electric fund revenue is a certainty as homeowners adopt more solar technology.
“We need to think about this not in terms of lost revenue,” Feichter said. “The tidal wave of electric vehicles is coming.”
Almost all major automakers have committed to some form of carbon-neutrality or the phasing out of combustion engines in new vehicle platforms, some in the immediate future. Ford has just introduced an electric version of its popular F-150 series, Mercedes won’t offer combustion platforms after 2025, VW after 2026, GM after 2035 and Honda after 2040.
“Let’s say you drive about 1,183 miles per month, which is an average of 14,200 miles per year. For an electric vehicle, that means you would use 394 kilowatt hours during that month. That would come out to the cost of about $55 per month to charge your car,” Feichter said. “Now, if I put an electric vehicle charger in my house, that’s $55 of revenue that the town will realize that it would not have realized before.”
Alderman Chuck Dickson thinks the EV portion of the town’s efforts may be more important than the electric rate policy.
“A solar electric policy is going to attract people to town, and certainly it’s going to be good for our reputation,” said Alderman Chuck Dickson. “I think what would draw more people to town would be some really good EV charging stations.”
The town itself has also committed to installing solar technology on its own buildings but balked at spending $275,000 for solar and the rec center, which has lots of roof space unobstructed by trees or other structures.
The installation would have been able to provide up to 28% of the facility’s substantial power needs annually, but with a tightening budget (see WAYNESVILLE, p. 19) the line item didn’t make the cut despite Feichter’s pleas.
At a retreat last month, aldermen agreed to design solar generating capacity into the town’s forthcoming new fire station. The town will also pursue grants for EV chargers.
“I think we’re doing the right thing by jumping out in front of this and trying to promote everyone to save our planet,” said Mayor Gary Caldwell. “That’s what it’s all about.”
Waynesville will apply for EV charger grants
On April 26, Waynesville aldermen gave town staff the green light to apply for a grant to purchase six electric vehicle chargers. Funding for the grants comes from a settlement with German automaker Volkswagen. Between 2009 and 2016, Volkswagen violated the Clean Air Act by selling almost 600,000 vehicles equipped with computer technology designed to thwart emissions tests. As a result, grant funding is now available through the state of North Carolina for both slow and fast chargers. If the grant application is successful, Waynesville will install one fast charger and four slow chargers at little or no cost to the town.