Villages strive to maintain electricity capacity

By Sandy Rose Schwieterman - For the Sidney Daily News

MINSTER – One would think a new supply of clean energy would be a boon to everyone involved. Buy a solar unit, put it on your roof and you have free power. Even better, excess electricity could be fed back into the electrical grid and suddenly the electric company is paying you money for your electrical contribution. A win/win, right? Well, it’s a little more complicated than that.

In preparation for the new realities of renewable energy, the administrators of the villages of Minster, New Bremen and Jackson Center each explained the purpose of new ordinances called Behind The Meter (BTM). Each will limit the amount of energy the village can accept and also regulate the equipment’s connection to the village’s electrical grid. For all, an application fee will be assessed.

Minster Village Administrator Don Harrod explained the need to limit power coming into their grid from solar units was because the excess power needs to be balanced with contracts already in place with their provider, American Municipal Power (AMP).

In Minster’s case, their new ordinance establishes at 10kW limit limits a solar owner can send back or whatever their peak load is. Also the rate of payback to a homeowner for excess energy will be based on the average power cost for the previous year. An application will be required to hook into the Minster grid as well.

As Jackson Center considers the provisions of a similar BTM ordinance they are working on, Village Administrator Bruce Metz explained how they plan to keep a balance between new and old power sources.

“The contracts we are in supply 87% of our power and we buy 13% from the open market,” he said. “This allows us to have some leeway as the consumption fluctuates from season to season.”

The addition of a new power source creates new issues, he said.

“If we get extra electricity from a bunch of rooftop generators in our village, we still have to pay for our contract and if we don’t take it, they buy it back for a fraction of the cost, and in a sense, we’re losing money.”

New Bremen is about to approve their BTM ordinance. Village Administrator Brent Richter said, “We needed to make sure our rate structure is set up properly and limits the amount (electrical) generation that a customer can generate. For example, if someone draws only 5 kWs of power, we can only accept the same amount being sent back into our grid. We don’t want someone to put in a 50 kW power plant.”

There is also a cost to simply move electricity around, Richter explained. “We all pay transmission rates, so when somebody generates electricity with solar, those fees aren’t there.” He said transmission fees help pay for the entire electrical grid as well as specific improvements each village may make. For example, last year New Bremen built a new $6 million substation on the south side of town that will supply enough energy for new businesses and homes. Minster also is completing a new substation in their industrial park.

In regards to pursuit of green energy sources, Jackson Center’s Metz maintained that the power supplier for all three villages, AMP, is already invested in alternative energy sources.

“For example, we are part of AMP’s Solar Phase 2 Project with some local fields in Versailles, Piqua, plus five or six other locations. They produce 1.62 megawatts and Jackson Center buys 25% of that supply.

For his town, he said solar power from the AMP source can be substituted for free market energy purchases.

“Since it’s inside our distribution grid, we use every kilowatt hour of it. For example let’s say today the AMP solar field is going to put out 12,000 kilowatt hours, well, we get 25% of it but we only use 3000 of it. We do not take that 9000 left and put it back on the grid to DP&L. We just consume it and not use 9000 kW hours from DP&L,” said Metz.

He also pointed out that, along with the solar project, AMP has 10 hydroplants (eight along the Ohio River and two in New York State), one natural gas-powered facility in Fremont, Ohio, and a relatively new high tech coal plant in Illinois,.

Metz said, “I think if we do our due diligence as distribution grid owners, providing for consumers, really working hard on our systems and keeping our rates as low as we can go, we can compete.” He added, “The homeowners may wonder why they want to even do this (install solar or wind units) and have to keep up the maintenance.”

All the new ordinances will cover how the new solar units will connect to the municipal grid.

Richter said their new ordinance will have requirements on inter-connectivity equipment so the Village has protection for electric line workers, with the proper disconnections and switch gears so that it is safe for them.

“For instance,” he explained, “when the electric goes out, the solar panels that are hooked to the grid could backfeed to where the guys are working on the line could be shocked.”

Richter said other regulations he is looking at include new zoning regulations about where solar units can be placed.

“We need to determine things like the size of the solar unit and where it can be located. It’s like fence zoning, where you can’t have a fence in the front yard,” said Richter.

The New Bremen administrator said, beyond the new ordinances, other details they are considering include training for local fire departments when dealing with a house fire where there is a solar unit on the roof.

“How will they vent a roof if a solar unit is in the way?” he asked.

By Sandy Rose Schwieterman

For the Sidney Daily News

The writer is a regular contributor to the Sidney Daily News.

The writer is a regular contributor to the Sidney Daily News.