Customers of the Public Works Commission can have solar panels, but they can’t use them to power their homes or businesses.
Are homes and businesses that get their electricity from the Fayetteville Public Works Commission prohibited from installing solar panels to save money on electricity?
It’s not true, but that’s a perception among some people, including Marvel Rushing of Fayetteville who asked The Fayetteville Observer’s FayWHAT? series to look into the matter.
“Please explain why we can not have solar panels if we are a customer of PWC,” Rushing wrote. She is interested in getting solar panels for her home but had been told they aren’t allowed.
Rushing is, technically, mistaken. The PWC’s customers are allowed to have solar panels, spokeswoman Carolyn Justice-Hinson said, and 15 customers do.
But there is a kernel of truth in Rushing’s mistake: The PWC’s customers, unlike the customers of other power companies, aren’t allowed to wire their solar panels to power their homes or businesses to lower their electric bills.
Instead, the customers who install solar arrays must connect them directly to the PWC’s electrical grid, the PWC says. They get paid 6.93 cents per kilowatt-hour for the power they generate, the PWC’s rate chart says.
Meanwhile, their homes or businesses remain connected to the PWC, and pay for power from the PWC, as though they had no solar generation setup. The residential power rate is 10.1 cents per kilowatt hour.
A bit more into the weeds and technicalities: The law has most electrical utilities use a system called net metering when customers install solar grids. Their customers hook their home wiring into the solar panels and to use the power they generate.
And when the solar panels generate more power than the homes or businesses are using at a given moment, the excess power enters the electrical grid and customers are credited for it. They are credited for the full price of the power, Justice-Hinson said.
The PWC, by law, doesn’t have to do net metering. Instead, it uses a system called “buy-all/sell-all.”
The PWC buys from the customer all the power generated by the customer’s solar array. At the same time, separately, the PWC sells to the customer, from its grid, all the power that the customer’s property uses.
The PWC uses buy-all/sell-all instead of net metering because it believes the buy-all/sell-all practice is more fair to the customers who don’t have solar panels, Justice-Hinson said.
All power companies have to pay to build and maintain the electrical grid and lines that lead to each home and business, she said. When a utility uses net metering, the person with the solar array isn’t fully covering the costs of maintaining the those lines, she said.
That means the other customers end up subsidizing the person with the solar panels, Justice-Hinson said.
With the buy-all/sell-all arrangement, the person with the solar array is sharing the electrical grid costs like any other customer, Justice-Hinson said.
PWC customers who want to “go green” soon will have another option. The PWC is building a solar farm and it’s due to come into operation in the summer, Justice-Hinson said.
Once it is online, PWC customers can elect to purchase power from the solar farm, she said, instead of from its normal sources, which are a natural-gas generation plant the PWC owns and Duke Energy.
Staff writer Paul Woolverton can be reached at email@example.com or 910-486-3512.