Co-Op Enters Solar Age

An overhead view of the Fairfield Electrical Cooperative’s new solar array. (Photo/Walter Allread)

An overhead view of the Fairfield Electrical Cooperative’s new solar array. (Photo/Walter Allread)

WINNSBORO (Dec. 29, 2016) – The Fairfield Electric Cooperative is letting a little sun shine into its power production with the introduction this month of a modest solar farm built on a little less than an acre of land at the Co-Op’s Winnsboro office on Highway 321 North.

Construction on the array of solar panels began just over a month ago, and on Dec. 9 work crews officially flipped the switch and tied the panels into the company’s grid.

“It’s producing electricity,” Doug Payne, Vice President of Member and Strategic Services said. “We’ve begun selling subscriptions and we’ll roll it out in January in our Co-Op magazine. We’ve gotten a lot of interest in it. We’re getting inquiries daily.”

This “community” solar service is an ideal fit, Payne said, for Co-Op members who have always had a desire to go solar – either in part or entirely – but who don’t have the space or the optimal sun exposure for a solar array on their own property. It also allows customers to get in on solar without having to make the huge investment in installing panels on or around their own homes.

Installing solar on one’s own home can cost tens of thousands of dollars, even with federal tax credits. With such big upfront costs, recouping that investment can take many years. But with the Co-Op’s community solar service, customers can see a return in five to six years, Payne said. And the upfront cost is significantly less.

The Co-Op is selling blocks, which consist of approximately four solar panels, for an upfront cost of $140 plus a one-time administrative fee of $35. After that, customers pay $14 per month per block. Customers can buy up to four blocks and the overall subscription term is for 20 years.

Each block generates 1 kilowatt, or approximately 160 kilowatt hours per month on average. With the average home using approximately 1,200 kilowatt hours per month, four blocks could generate nearly half of a home’s electricity each month. The output of the block will be credited back to the member at 10 cents per kilowatt hour.

“This is the right project at the right time for Fairfield Electric,” Fairfield Electric CEO Bill Hart said. “Community solar is a terrific option for many of our members. It’s affordable. It’s safe. And we’ll make sure it’s reliable.”

The Winnsboro solar farm is the first of its kind for Fairfield Electric, Payne said, and came as a response to a recent customer survey.

“We’ve got a lot of members who said they were interested in solar,” Payne said, “who said they would participate in community solar, and we decided it was something we should do for people who couldn’t do it themselves.”

And although it is the first, it very well may not be the last community solar farm for Fairfield Electric.

“Once we sell all 60 units (in Winnsboro),” Payne said, “we’ll look into selling more. We have some other areas at some of our substations, on land that we already own.”