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OurSolar Celebrates 1 Year

In July 2016, Tri-County kicked off ourSolar, a new cooperative solar program, with energy to be generated from a 1 MW solar facility in Eatonton, Georgia. It was an exciting time for the cooperative, with the construction of one of the largest solar arrays in the area, and it also brought lots of questions about actual output and member acceptance of the program.

“It’s been a success,” comments Greg Mullis, vice president of corporate services for Tri-County EMC who oversaw the development of the program. “When normalized for weather, the output has been better than projected and hundreds of Tri-County EMC members now have much easier access to getting renewable energy for their home or business.” (86711002)

Generating over two million kilowatt-hours in the first year, much of the energy from the array has gone directly to the accounts of members enrolled in the ourSolar program. For $25 per “block”, participating members have the output of four panels directly applied to their account and netted from their bill. “We’ve had over 60% of the 850 available blocks subscribed. Obviously, the output varies based on weather, but members have averaged ‘generating’ more than 200 kWh per month per block for their accounts,” said Mullis.

One of the biggest unknowns, and opportunities to learn, was the effect of weather—cloud cover, rain and the seasonal shortening of the days—on the performance of the array. According to Mullis, “December of 2016 is a prime example of just how much weather causes variability in renewable energy.” There were 15 days of rain in December 2016 and several more with significant cloud cover. Not unexpected, the output was about 20 percent below projections. Contrast that to March and April, much dryer that expected spring months, when output was 5% -10% higher than expected.

In addition to the Eatonton solar project, Tri-County continues to examine new renewable opportunities. Tri-County is one of 27 electric cooperatives participating in the first phase of a 20 MW project located in Hazelhurst, Georgia, which went on line in 2015 and has committed to participate in another utility scale project to be announced soon.

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