A look at the first weeks of EPB's new community solar project

A look at the first weeks of EPB's new community solar project

July 24th, 2017 by Dave Flessner in Business Around the Region

In its first two weeks, EPB's solar share has attracted enough consumers wanting to buy into the project to already license about one fourth of the 4,408 solar panels installed in the utility's new community solar project in Chattanooga.

About 150 customers have signed up for licenses for 1,030 of the panels, EPB directors were told last week. EPB spokesman J.Ed. Marston said about 90 percent are signing up for monthly licenses, which cost $5 per panel. Customers also can buy a 20-year license for an upfront charge of $680.

The licenses gives the customer the value of the output of a solar panel, similar to if the person put such a panel on his or her own home or business. But because the customer is buying a license for part of the solar farm ultimately owned by EPB, the generous federal tax credits for solar investments are not available under EPB's Solar Share program.

But EPB President David Wade said those who buy into the program will get credit on their monthly power bill of the value electricity generated by the solar panel in the previous month.

"People want not only reliable power, many people also want to know where their power is coming from and they want to make sure their power is green and sustainable," Wade said.

For those wanting to buy solar power but who live in shaded neighborhoods or just don't want to install panels in their own home or business, EPB's solar share offers an alternative, Wade said. Many businesses, such as Google, Apple and Wal-mart, also have pledged to buy more renewable power to reduce their carbon footprint and are interested in buying into solar share projects to earn carbon credits for such initiatives.

The typical solar panel in EPB's new solar farm along Holtzclaw Avenue is projected to generate 450 kilowatts of electricity a year, which at EPB's current price of 10.3 cents per kilowatthour for residential power is worth about $46.34 a year, or $3.86 a month. That is still below the $5 license charge for the solar panel.

"But as energy costs continue to rise — and the cost of the solar investment is fixed — this should be more attractive over time," Wade said.