CEC’s Solar Demonstration Project

Covington Electric Cooperative has a 9.6 kW solar demonstration project at their headquarters facility in Sanford. The demonstration project will help CEC evaluate solar energy technology.

“Some of our members have expressed a strong desire for renewable energy to be a part of our energy mix,” said Ed Short, CEC general manager and CEO. “This demonstration site allows us to learn about the advantages and disadvantages of solar energy and determine whether it is a good fit for our cooperative and our members.”

Short said the project is similar in size to a residential installation because another goal of the project is to help members learn how residential solar works before they invest in systems for their homes or businesses. “This project is designed to show members an actual solar project, so they will have accurate information when making decisions about whether to purchase a solar installation,” he said.

The system will show daily output of a solar array for a home in the CEC service area with an average energy use of about 13,200 kWh per year. The power generated by this solar array will be put back on the CEC system at their headquarters. The system cost approximately $35,000 which includes installation. It is owned by CEC’s wholesale power provider, PowerSouth Energy Cooperative, and the power it generates will be billed back to CEC by PowerSouth due to the All Power Requirements contract between CEC and PowerSouth.

CEC says they will track the system’s output and a link to that information is now available. Members can click on the link to see hourly production as well as history and how weather impacts the system’s output. Click here to view this information.

For more information about this project or to discuss CEC’s interconnection and metering policies, please contact CEC at 1-800-239-4121.

Solar Demonstration Project – Covington Electric Cooperative – FAQ

 Why did CEC build a solar demonstration project?

CEC’s members have expressed a strong interest in renewable energy – particularly solar. With current technology, solar energy is the most practical renewable energy resource for our region. CEC constructed this solar array to help evaluate the costs and benefits of using solar energy to supply power for our members. The data we collect from the system will also help our members make better-informed decisions about investing in solar panels at their homes or businesses.

How much electricity does the solar demonstration project produce?

The panels in the demonstration array have the potential to generate an estimated 14,400 kilowatt-hours per year. They will produce the most energy on bright sunny days, with the highest production occurring from March through October according to the National Renewable Energy Lab PVWatts Calculator. Production will vary with the amount of sunlight – so they will produce little energy on cloudy days and none at night.

On average, this array is capable of producing 1,200 kilowatt-hours per month. Typical residences in CEC’s service territory use about 1,100 kilowatt-hours per month. It’s important to remember that energy production from solar panels is not constant – and without storage capacity (batteries), a system like this would not be able to provide around-the-clock electric service to a home or business.

How can I track the performance of the solar demonstration project?

The system’s performance and history can be tracked on CEC’s website.

How much does it cost?

A homeowner or business could purchase and install a similarly sized system for approximately $35,000. Depending on how the system is financed, you could expect the estimated cost of energy from a system of this design to be .15 ₵ per kilowatt-hour, compared to CEC’s average retail rate of .11298 ₵ per kilowatt hour.

Determining the years it would take to earn a return on investment for a system of this design can’t be accurately determined because it will depend on the homeowner’s energy use habits, weather, and rate of deterioration of the solar array.

Does the solar array power your office?

While the energy generated with the solar demonstration project is put back on the CEC system, it isn’t enough to supply all our energy needs. We must still rely on traditional energy sources – like coal, natural gas and hydroelectricity – to supply the power needed for our offices 24/7/365.

Plus, solar energy is intermittent and dependent on weather conditions, so we rely on other sources of energy for a steady energy supply – not only for our office but also for our members.

We estimate that this array could generate an average of 40 kilowatt-hours per day. That would be enough energy to power a typical refrigerator for 20 days if the electricity supply from the solar panels were constant. However, energy from solar panels is intermittent and dependent on weather conditions. That means we must still have a steady energy supply from traditional energy sources.

Why did you choose to build a small array instead of a huge solar farm?

Before we invest our members’ resources in a utility-scale solar project, we are using this opportunity to further our understanding of solar technology and evaluate the cost and performance of solar panels.

Many of our members are also interested in installing solar panels at their homes and businesses. This site is comparable in size to a residential (rooftop) installation, so our members can see real-time data and make a more informed decision before making an investment of their own.

Sunshine is free — why doesn’t CEC use solar power for all its energy needs?

While it’s true that sunshine is free, there is a cost associated with harnessing it for electricity production. That cost is considerably higher than the cost of electricity from a traditional power plant that uses natural gas or coal to generate electricity.

Another shortfall of solar energy is that it is dependent on the weather. Electricity must be used at the exact moment it is produced. At night or on cloudy days, we must rely on electricity from sources that can produce electricity 24/7.

This project will help CEC determine where and how solar energy fits into the generating mix.

Who owns the solar array at CEC?

The power generated by this solar array will be put back on the CEC system at our headquarters. The system is owned by our wholesale power provider, PowerSouth Energy Cooperative, and the power it generates will be billed back to CEC by PowerSouth due to the All Power Requirements contract between CEC and PowerSouth.

Is CEC selling solar panels?

No. The demonstration project is simply for educational purposes.

Can Alabama homeowners get a federal tax credit for purchasing a solar power system?

Yes, but percentages may vary from year to year. The federal solar tax credit, also known as the investment tax credit (ITC), allows you to deduct 30 percent of the cost of installing a solar energy system from your federal taxes through 2019. The ITC applies to both residential and commercial systems, and there is no cap on its value. This means if you purchase a solar power system in 2019, you can claim an ITC on your 2020 federal tax return.

However, in 2020 that percentage will decrease to 26 percent, in 2021 to 22 percent, and it’s set to expire in 2022 (a 10 percent tax credit will be available for commercial projects only in 2022).

Did CEC or PowerSouth receive a tax credit for purchasing their solar array?

No. The cooperatives are not-for-profit companies and therefore did not qualify for a federal tax credit.