Members of the Consolidated Electric Cooperative, Inc. don’t necessarily want a lower rate for electricity generated by the large array of solar panels on State Route 521, but they like the idea of a renewable energy source.
“They want a renewable energy source as part of their overall consumption,” said Brad Ebersole, economic development specialist. “Their choice is to be green.”
According to Consolidated’s website, in a year’s time the power produced by the 304 panels offset 229,722 pounds of carbon dioxide emissions, powered 1,363 lights for a year, and 260,352 miles driven in a car.
Consolidated is a full-service energy provider serving the energy needs of the 14,000 rural members of north-central Ohio with electricity, propane, and soon optical fiber cable. Consolidated is a member of the Ohio Rural Electric Cooperatives, a statewide trade association of 24 cooperatives in Ohio.
The co-op’s membership once only consisted of farmers, but as more people moved from the cities to live in the rural areas, homeowners outnumbered the farmers.
Chief Human Resource Officer Pam Hawk said the co-op traces its roots back to 1936 and the former Delaware Rural Electric Cooperative, which was formed when the electric companies of the time would not provide electricity to rural areas because “it was too costly.”
“So farmers and the townships got together,” she said. “What I think is really cool about this is that they worked hard (farming) and then they would come out to set power poles for the cooperative.”
Hawk said Consolidated Electric Cooperative, a nonprofit, member-owned and controlled cooperative, was created when Morrow Electric Cooperative and Delaware Rural Electric Cooperative merged in July of 1996.
Hawk said when the co-op surveyed its members on the idea of solar power, it found that 50 percent of the membership was in favor of a solar program.
“We were astounded to how many of our members wanted this,” she said.
Ebersole said when the co-op considered offering a publicly-owned solar program officials figured they would need to generate about 25 kilowatts of power for their membership.
“Once we started, you could see the momentum really starting to roll with folks going, ‘wait a second, that’s a pretty good idea,’” he said. “It’s a lower cost to subscribe to the program than putting a solar array on a rooftop for $20,000 to $30,000 investment. Plus you don’t have the maintenance and upkeep.”
Ebersole said to support a rooftop solar array, “you have to replace your roof by tearing all of that off and going back to redo it for the warranties and all the different things. You take all that away when doing a public project like this for our members.”
Ebersole said the program is for members only.
“It’s two dollars per panel,” he said. “If someone owns five to 10 panels the cost is $10 to $20 a month instead of a $20,000 to $30,000 investment.” He said the typical return on an investment of a rooftop array takes “eight to 14 years to get your money back.”
“Instead of working 12 years to get your money back to break even and really truly start reducing your cost,” he said. “Our program offers no upfront cost. You just subscribe to the program and pay for the kilowatts generated off of it.”
Hawk said during a membership conference they were told, “If you’re here to save money, you’re not going to do it, it’s an investment in renewable power.”
Ebersole said when the program was started members were limited to only five panels at a time, but when there were a few leftover the co-op upped the limit to 10. He said that all of the 304 panels have subscriptions.
Both Ebersole and Hawk said as technology advances the panels become less expensive and there could be a day that members are saving money over the traditional electric rates.
Contact D. Anthony Botkin at 740-413-0902. Follow him on Twitter @dabotkin.