While participation in the city of Hastings’ solar project may not save the customer money in the short term, Hastings Utilities staff members believe it is a good bet in the long run.
HU staff members provided an update about the solar project during the Hastings Utility Board meeting Thursday morning.
The solar field, which is west of the Hastings Municipal Airport, north of 12th Street along Highland Road, includes 6,012 panels.
Participation options include the purchase of installed panels, participating in a solar share program or a combination of the installation and share options. The options carry a one-time $50 enrollment fee due for all options at the time of application.
The $50 is refundable as a credit to the account after one year of participation.
Brian Strom, HU manager of customer accounts, told board members one of the most frequent questions HU staff members are receiving from the public about the project is how will participation save them money.
“I think we’re upfront and honest that if you’re looking to save a bunch of funds it’s probably not the right program to look into, but this is a renewable option and we’re competitive,” he said.
One panel is expected to average 48 kilowatt hours a month — 52 kWh in year one, and 45 kWh by year 30 — over the course of the project’s 30-year lifespan.
The one-time cost per purchased panel is $384.
One solar share will include three panels and equal 150 kWh.
For a residential customer who uses 1,000 kWh per month, two solar shares would cover 30 percent of that usage.
It would take six purchased panels to cover that 30 percent mark at a total cost of $2,304, $1,612.80 after the current solar investment tax credit.
At that level, the customer would save $4.71 per month, but would be making the investment on the front end of the project.
Solar participants would benefit from a base energy credit that is adjusted annually and represents what it costs Hastings to purchase power from the Southwest Power Pool. That credit will initially be 2.13 cents per kWh.
Customers choosing the solar share option also would receive the base energy credit of 2.13 cents per kWh, but would pay a solar energy charge of 3.01 cents per kWh. Two shares — six panels and 300 kWh — would add $2.63 to a monthly electric bill for 1,000 kWh of consumption for a total of $110.16.
A single share — slightly more than 15 percent of the average customer usage — would add $1.32 each month.
Under pricing without solar, an HU residential customer is paying $107.53 per month for 1,000 kWh of electricity.
The panels are generating kilowatts that Hastings Utilities doesn’t have to buy. So if the cost of the market starts to grow, so will that credit.
“We’re very transparent with it, which has also made it a little more complicated because there’s a lot of numbers through there,” said Derek Zeisler, HU director of marketing and energy supply. “I think some people, when they go through that they’d like to see something a little simpler. A couple of them have come in and said ‘This just adds $1.30 to my bill if I sign up for a share. Why don’t you just say that?’ ”
City Administrator Dave Ptak said it is a credit to Hastings Utilities that rates have remained as low as they have over the years, which is why there isn’t that big difference initially between participating or not participating in the solar project.
HU Manager Kevin Johnson said the decision to participate in the project should not necessarily be based on 2019 financials.
“This is not a ‘today’ decision,” he said. “The decision is if you believe energy prices are going to go up we’re providing an opportunity with the solar to lock in a percentage, up to 80% of usage, for the same rate for 30 years.”
So far, 24 HU customers have claimed 262 panels out of a total of 6,012 panels within the city’s solar field. Customer sign-up for the project began Aug. 12.
“It’s moving. We’ll just keep on welcoming customers and getting information out there to the public, and we’ll just keep signing people up,” Strom said.
Zeisler said completion of the project was delayed slightly due to recent storms.
The plan now is for the solar field to be energized on Sept. 13. HU staff members did an initial walk through Thursday afternoon.
“It was nice to see while it was still under their care to go through a storm with hail and very strong winds there with no reported damage,” Zeisler said, referring to contractor GenPro Energy Solutions.
Damage was limited to one panel that wasn’t yet fully secured and slid down in its rack.
“It’s good to see it survive that,” Zeisler said of the solar field. “That’s one of the questions that a lot of people had, is how would these hold up in storms.”
Hastings Utilities is planning to have an open house for the project in October.
Staff members hope to have another evening pubic informational meeting where customers can ask questions.
Board member Shawn Hartmann, who is vice president of Hastings HVAC, said the ability to participate in a renewable energy project like this is important to local manufacturers.
“I do know there are companies that lost some work because the energy pool they draw from here, there wasn’t a certain percentage of renewable energy that was required by certain customers to produce certain products,” he said. “I think in the future you will see more of those kinds of requirements.”
More information about the solar project is available at www.cityofhastings.org/solar.