For years past and again this year, the Sun Fun Festival is the unofficial start to summer in the Grand Strand. It is appropriate, then, that Santee Cooper has launched the state’s first community solar project here as well. This first community solar project, Santee Cooper Solar Share, opened for subscriptions Friday in our retail service territory, which is centered along coastal Horry and Georgetown counties.
If you haven’t heard much about community solar, you will. Think of a neighborhood solar farm, with the homes and businesses drawing energy first from the solar panels and then from the electric utility. It makes solar power available to everyone. If you rent an apartment, own a condo, lease your business building, have an old roof or have big shade trees covering your roof, you can still invest in community solar and get the monthly and long-term savings.
Solar Share’s first community solar project is using an existing solar farm, which means subscriptions are available immediately. Specifically, customers can subscribe to a portion of the Colleton Solar Farm, and their share of the solar power generated each month by the farm will be applied as a credit to their monthly Santee Cooper bill. For more information, visit www.scsolarshare.com.
Community solar projects are taking the country by storm. They can be cheaper than rooftop programs for customers – Santee Cooper’s is – because constructing the larger farms provides economies of scale. Community solar projects also can perform better than rooftop, because the panels can be installed for optimum output and aren’t restricted by roof angle.
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Depending on the solar panels’ output and a customer’s energy consumption and habits, a Solar Share subscription will provide monthly savings off your Santee Cooper electric bill. There is an upfront purchase price, which comes to $880 per kilowatt after our rebate (up to 4kW). Some months, like December when the days are shorter, customers may not see much impact on their bills. Other months, again depending on customer habits and solar output, customers could see a savings of 20 percent or better.
An 18-year Solar Share subscription is designed to pay for itself in about 10 years, again depending on how an individual customer uses energy. The idea is that your monthly savings those first 10 years would offset your subscription cost, and you’d enjoy the solar power with that subscription already paid for over the remaining eight years.
Santee Cooper also has rebates and incentives now available for installation of rooftop solar panels, and I would certainly recommend those programs to interested customers. Those programs make assumptions about installation costs and are designed for a 12½-year payoff, with new solar panels expected to generate power for at least 20 years. We also continue to offer low-interest financing for rooftop solar, which helps with the upfront costs. More information is available at www.santeecoopersolar.com.
Santee Cooper will continue to provide standby electricity for all solar customers, recognizing that solar panels provide their stated capacity about 17 percent of the time. Because we provide backup power all the time, solar customers incur fixed costs all the time, and we have carefully designed our rates to make sure we are collecting those fixed costs appropriately. We want to accommodate our customers who want solar power, without shifting costs to our customers who don’t.
Santee Cooper remains as committed to renewable generation as we were in 2001, when we introduced South Carolina’s first Green Power Generating Station in Horry County. We restated our commitment several years ago with a pledge to provide 40 percent of customers’ energy needs by 2020 through non-greenhouse gas emitting resources, renewables and energy efficiency. I’m proud that Santee Cooper could spotlight the Grand Strand again in such a positive way for South Carolina.
The writer is president and CEO of Santee Cooper, a state-owned, nonprofit utility.