COLUMBIA — Solar energy is noticeably missing from Columbia’s current power supply portfolio. Why? The answer is because of the expense of building a solar array.
A recent proposal by the Quaker Oats factory in Columbia to the Water and Light Department has motivated the city to find ways to incorporate solar energy into its energy plan.
Jay Hasheider, an energy services supervisor at the utility, said he developed a plan with Quaker Oats to make a solar project a reality in Columbia.
“There ought to be a way for us to be a catalyst in the solar arena,” he said. “Solar energy is the most abundant renewable energy resource inside of Columbia.”
At last week’s Water and Light Advisory Board meeting, Hasheider introduced a plan called Solar One. Its premise is similar to other green energy projects, through which green energy credits are sold at higher prices to support the more expensive energy. But unlike many of the nation’s green energy credit programs, this one is unique in that it is “100 percent solar, 100 percent local,” Hasheider said.
The goal of the program is to supply 1 percent of Columbia’s electric energy needs with solar energy by 2023. Solar One would offset some of the capital cost involved with businesses interested in going solar. Hasheider explained that a solar program that involves private businesses is a good idea because they receive 30 percent tax write-offs from the federal government for such projects. The utility is ineligible for the write-off.
As outlined in the plan, Water and Light would act as a broker between businesses that supply solar energy and customers willing to purchase that energy at a higher price than what they currently pay for electricity. The Columbia City Council will discuss the plan at its Nov. 19 meeting.
“Solar energy is expensive, and citizens should support it if they are interested in moving in that direction,” Water and Light Director Dan Dasho said.
He said that solar power, on average, costs 45 cents per kilowatt hour, which is roughly 10 times the cost of the energy that the city now purchases.
Under the Solar One plan, Quaker Oats would build and maintain its solar-power array and Water and Light would secure customers willing to pay for the solar energy produced for the first 10 years. The energy would be sold in 100 kilowatt-per-year blocks at a cost of roughly $3.50 per month more than the current bill for subscribing customers.
By purchasing the first 10 years of solar energy from the system, Columbia residents would essentially be paying for Quaker’s solar investment. The cost would come to a total of $3,500 a year for the 10-year period. Water and Light estimates that a commitment from 80 of its roughly 42,000 customers would cover the pilot Solar One program.
Several members of the Water and Light Advisory Board expressed concern about subsidizing Quaker Oats’ investment. The plan passed at last week’s board meeting, with Vice Chairman Tom Baumgardner dissenting. He said he worries that the money Columbians would spend toward a business-owned solar-power system could be used to build the city’s own system.
If the pilot project is successful, other businesses would be invited to join Solar One, Hasheider said.