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Summer 2016

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solar energy rebates
Solar arrays at Colleton Solar Farm, which produces energy for Solar Share customers.

Here Comes The Sun

As the sun peaked over the horizon at Colleton Solar Farm at 7:08 a.m. on Friday, April 1, 2016, the dawn of a new day and a whole new era for solar power in South Carolina emerged. Those first rays heralded the arrival of Santee Cooper Solar Share, the Palmetto State’s first community solar offering. It also marked the genesis of Santee Cooper’s rooftop solar rebate programs – Solar Home and Solar Business.

“Santee Cooper has been the state’s leader in solar power for a decade, and we are pleased to open yet another chapter with South Carolina’s first community solar program,” said Lonnie Carter, Santee Cooper president and CEO. “Our rooftop and community solar programs and related incentives will bring the benefits of solar power to all of our customers, whether they own a roof or not.”

Solar generation presents a good opportunity for home and business owners to join the green revolution and offset energy use and control costs. Not every home or business is suited for onsite solar panels, though. According to various industry sources, only between 15 and 25 percent of residential rooftop areas are suitable for installing photovoltaic, or PV, systems.

solar energy rebates
Solar panels convert the sun’s energy into electric current. The current passes through an inverter, which changes it from DC (direct current) to AC (alternating current). AC is used in homes and businesses to power lights, appliances, etc. Extra power produced by solar panels can be exported through the meter to the grid. Santee Cooper supplies power through the grid to customers who do not make or do not make enough solar power to power their homes and businesses. The disconnect switch, or isolation device, helps keep electric workers, the public and the grid safe.

There are many reasons why solar may not work for everyone...some structures are shaded by trees or adjacent buildings, some roofs face the wrong way and don’t get enough sun, and some neighborhood associations and architectural review boards prohibit the installation of solar panels. Home or business owners may have roofs that weren’t engineered to accommodate the addition of solar panels. Plus, some people find the panels aesthetically displeasing, while others don’t want to bother with installation or upkeep of solar panels.

For renters, investing in rooftop solar panels just doesn’t make financial sense and the landlord may not allow it. Those who own or occupy the bottom or middle floors of a multistory building don’t even have a roof. Santee Cooper Solar Share evaporates all of those impediments like a water drop on 95 degree asphalt.

These and other obstacles to rooftop solar across the country have helped seed the growth of community solar farms. Our community solar program, Santee Cooper Solar Share, offers subscriptions in 1-kilowatt (kW) increments to electricity generated at the Colleton Solar Farm in Walterboro. The current price for a subscription is $1.88 per watt, or $1,880 per kW, and Santee Cooper will offset that initial cost with rebates of $1.00 per watt, or $1,000 per kW. The net cost to customers is 88 cents per watt, or $880 per 1-kW subscribed. By offering these substantial rebates, Santee Cooper is encouraging participation in the program and rewarding its customers for purchasing Solar Share subscriptions. At this time, rebates are capped at 4 kW per customer.

solar energy rebates
Mike Poston, Vice President of Retail Operations

For subscribing, customers will receive a proportional share of the energy produced by the solar farm through Dec. 20, 2033. This will appear on their Santee Cooper bills as an offset to energy used or as a solar energy credit. The amounts will differ monthly depending on how much solar power is generated versus how much electricity the customer is using concurrently.

Solar Share subscriptions will be available for purchase through 2018 or until a total of 1 megawatt (MW) is subscribed. The purchase price and rebate amount will be evaluated and may be adjusted each year.

“Our solar offerings are very inclusive,” explained Mike Poston, vice president of retail operations. “Business and homeowners eager to ‘go solar’ can participate in our Solar Home and Solar Business programs by working with our Trade Allies, certified by the North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners or NABCEP, to design and install their solar systems. If rooftop solar doesn’t work for customers, they can subscribe to our Solar Share community solar program. Either way, customers can receive upfront rebates, and monthly energy credits for excess electricity they generate and provide back to Santee Cooper.”

solar energy rebates
The tilt of your solar PV panel is as important as the orientation and can change with the seasons.

For example, if you install panels that are flatter (see summer example), you will see a higher production during the summer months and a lower production during winter months.

Solar panel angles should be adjusted seasonally to maximize their sun exposure.


Sunny Days Ahead

Think of the sun as a huge power plant send-ing out waves of energy-bearing photons. We experience this energy everyday as heat and light. When these electromagnetic particles strike the material that makes up PV cells, a portion of the energy they carry is converted into electric current. Individual cells are wired together to form PV arrays, and the electricity they harvest is passed through an inverter, changing it from DC, direct current, to AC, alternating current, which is what we use in our homes and businesses.

Solar panels don’t have an on/off switch; they generate electricity whenever sunlight falls on them. To protect the grid, and the workers who service it, each point of connection must be able to be isolated from the system. Customers who install solar panels, or any other generation, must agree to the standards set forth in the interconnection agreement, which explains that an isolation device is necessary to keep lineworkers, the public and the grid safe.

Optimum benefit is gained by using power as it is generated. The power generated by your solar system can offset some of your energy usage when it is generated at the same time it is being used. So, to make the most of an investment in solar energy, it’s important to know what time of day you use the most electricity. If your business or household typically uses a lot of electricity when solar panel output is at its peak, which is usually in the afternoons, you’ll get the most benefit. On the other hand, if your home is unoccupied during the day or if most of your business is done after sundown, you could end up exporting some of your generated electricity back to the grid instead of using it.

solar energy rebates
It only takes a small amount of shading to significantly reduce a solar panel’s output. Ideally, a system should have full sun for at least 6 hours a day, preferably between 9:00 a.m. and 3:00 p.m. The annual path of the sun should also be considered in determining if shading will impact the system, especially during the winter months when the sun is at a lower angle.

When it comes to Solar Home and Solar Business rooftop programs, rebates are set as a one-time payment of $1.30 per watt paid based on the system’s rated capacity (watt AC) and capped at $5,200 per account number. Keep in mind that you may also be eligible for state and federal tax incentives, and nonprofit customers are eligible for an additional rebate of $0.25/watt (AC), also capped at 4 kW. Solar Home and Solar Business participants will be issued the rebate upon verified completion of all solar PV system requirements. In addition to the rebate, Solar Home and Solar Business customers also will receive energy credits on their bills for the energy they don’t use that goes back on the grid.

Even though solar energy has an important role to play, the sun doesn’t shine all the time, especially early on cold winter mornings when electric demand is typically highest, on hot, humid summer evenings or during those pop-up thunderstorms. So solar customers also buy power from Santee Cooper. When customers’ solar panels produce more energy than the customer can use, Santee Cooper will buy that excess power. That means whether buying or selling electricity, rooftop solar customers still use the grid – our network of power plants, poles, lines and meters.

All participants in Santee Cooper’s solar programs will be enrolled in the Distributed Generation (DG) Rider. The DG Rider is impor-tant in many ways, but mostly because it helps protect employees who are working on the grid and allows for solar customers to pay their fair share of fixed costs and to serve them for relaying any unused solar energy back onto the grid.

The DG Rider includes a standby fee of $4.40 per kW per month for homes and $4.70 per kW per month for businesses. The standby fee is necessary to recover those fixed costs, including maintenance of generation, transmission and distribution systems, to serve solar customers that wouldn’t otherwise be collected via energy charges, and to ensure those fixed costs are not shifted to non-solar customers.

Program participants will also receive an energy credit of 3.8 cents per kWh for any excess solar power produced that goes back on the grid. As an added incentive, the first 500 residential rooftop customers to sign up for solar programs will receive an additional 3 cents per kWh for excess electricity returned to the grid.

Solar panels should continue operating for at least 20 years, although some are rated at 25 years and higher, and the residential and commercial rooftop incentives are designed to help customers recover their purchase costs in  about half that time.

The Colleton Solar Farm is currently two years old, and so the Solar Share investments made in 2016 will cover about 18 years. Payback for Solar Share customers is expected to be between 9.2 and 10.2 years, depending on subscribed capacity, energy use and other variables.

That means, whether you’re a Solar Share, Solar Home or Solar Business customer, you could have up to 12 years of “free” solar energy offsetting your daily use.

No matter how you look at it, that’s just another reason to appreciate a sunny, South Carolina day.