Thinking About Solar? Let Us Help!

solar panels on house

In recent years, solar power technology and adoption have boomed. In many parts of the country, solar panels offer a competitive, viable option for those looking to minimize their environmental impact or lower their monthly bill.

Wells Rural Electric Company (WREC) has had a net-metering policy for decades. It allows members to install solar panels and offset a portion of the electricity they buy from the cooperative with the solar power they put back on the grid. If a member produces more than they use, they get a credit at the end of the year.

However, solar is not always quite what is promoted, and it doesn’t have the same level of benefit everywhere.

In WREC’s service territory—where the average monthly electric bill is still well below the national average—solar panels often don’t pencil out as a way to save money. As a result, WREC recommends communicating with the cooperative before you have a system installed so you better understand what to expect and avoid heartache if the results don’t quite match up with the sales pitch.

Carbon Emissions

Many solar adopters cite environmental concerns as motivating their choice to install panels. That mainly comes down to using solar power to offset the carbon emissions produced by other forms of electricity generation.

However, WREC members already receive nearly all their electricity from carbon-free hydroelectricity produced by the dams of the Federal Columbia River Power System in the Pacific Northwest.

Hydro is not only carbon-free, but it converts roughly 90% of available energy into electricity, producing some of the most affordable, efficient electricity on the market.

Eliminating Service

One of the primary sales pitches for solar installation entices members with some version of “eliminate your monthly bill.” However, solar panels DO NOT eliminate the need for grid access for most consumers.

While solar panels will offset a portion of electricity bought from WREC, you will still likely require access to the grid, which will not eliminate the monthly basic service charge.

To understand why, it is important to understand the nature of solar panels and typical residential energy use. In the simplest terms possible, you are likely to need the most electricity when solar panels are either not generating power or are working at lower efficiency.

In WREC’s service territory, peak electric hours tend to be in the morning while people get ready for work and in the evening when members arrive home from work and heating and cooling are at a premium. However, solar panels don’t generate when the sun isn’t shining.

A typical net-metering account would look something like this: A member requires electricity from the grid while getting ready for work in the morning, solar panels put electricity back on the grid during the day while the sun is out, and the member requires grid electricity again in the evening when the sun goes down (and to heat or cool overnight).

While solar production offsets some of that use, the account still needs to access the grid both for a place to put the excess solar generation and for those times of the day when the panels are not generating, but electricity is needed.

Return on Investment

Because hydroelectricity is so affordable and the nature of solar panels leaves most people reliant on the grid, the return on investment for many WREC members remains longer than consumers of many other utilities.

While it is possible to design and install a system that saves money and pays for itself over the system’s life, it isn’t probable in every situation.

For those reasons and others, WREC urges members exploring the option of investing in solar panels to include the cooperative in the process.

WREC offers a generous net-metering program for members interested in solar power and other forms of distributed generation. However, the cooperative wants to make sure members have the information needed to make a confident decision.