Co-op members convert sunshine to electricity

 

When Ken Kubischta and his wife, Monica, purchased a home north of Bismarck in 2018, they were excited to have more space and a place for their Airstream camper. Soon after, they realized their south facing home and 4-acre property was the perfect location to catch some rays.

Kubischta is among a growing number of North Dakota electric consumers who are going solar.

“We’re pretty fortunate in North Dakota to have wide open spaces and the climate that we do have,” says Kubischta. “We have a lot of opportunity [for renewable energy]. We have the river running through and the wind, of course. And now, we have solar. We have to take advantage of that.” In January, Kubischta installed 24 solar panels on the roof of his home.

The 9-kilowatt (kW) solar system, which cost about $30,000, should produce an average of 50 kilowatt hours (kWh) of electricity per day. It has a system life of nearly 45 years. Kubischta says the solar panels have already cut his electric bill in half.

“What I’d otherwise be buying, I’m taking from the solar panels. It makes $5 per day, which comes to about $150 per month.”

Like Kubischta, Robert Celley is an early adopter of new technologies. An investor in SolarCity — a company that markets, manufactures and installs residential and commercial solar panels — he always hoped he would one day have a solar system of his own.

“I’ve been watching the technology for years now. Ten or fifteen years ago, it was borderline feasible. With the new technology and all of the tax incentives, it’s feasible now,” says Celley. “We still need the coal-fired plants. We need something at the end
of the line. But, [home solar systems] help take some of the high loads off.”

Celley’s 40-panel solar system is set up in two ground-mounted arrays. The 15-kW system is capable of producing an average of 80 kWh of electricity per day, which is enough electricity to power the family's home, shop and Telsa Model 3. The panels have a production warranty of 25 years. After that, they’ll still work, but they may produce less energy.

Dakota Solar Energy installed both Celley’s and Kubischta’s solar systems. CEO Charlie Ricketts says each system was designed to meet the needs of the end user.

“Dakota Solar Energy’s goal is to deploy solar power and to do it where people can save the most money. And, there are some variables on the table when we look at that. One being the site. How do we install it? Does it have to be a roof mount or a ground mount? How much energy is being used? When is it being used? And then, what does that excess energy look like when it goes onto the grid. We stack those things all next to one another, and we look at the last 12 months of usage history in kilowatt hours, so that we can see how much energy people are using and when they use it. And then, we stack that up against a design. And, every design is specific. We knew exactly what Robert Celley’s system would produce on an annual basis before we even put a pipe in the ground.”

Ricketts says there are a lot of misconceptions about the efficiency of solar systems in North Dakota.

“Often, I find people believe solar doesn’t work in the winter months or on overcast days. That is not the case. It works relatively well. Solar panels prefer cooler weather over hotter weather. So, we are actually able to achieve more efficiency with solar
in North Dakota than in Arizona, for example,” says Ricketts. “A lot of people think if you have a solar system you have to have batteries. In most cases, we install our systems to the grid, and excess power flows into the electric grid. No batteries
are needed. Also, people think it’s expensive.

It’s not.” According to Ricketts, solar systems are less expensive now than they will ever be. While each system can carry a price tag ranging from $10,000 to $200,000, members who install a home or commercial solar system in 2020 are eligible for a 26% federal tax credit. The Investment Tax Credit (ITC), which was 30% in 2019, will continue to decrease every year into 2022, where it will stay at a permanent rate.

Here’s what the future looks like for these deductions: • 2020 - 26% federal tax deduction | residential or commercial • 2021 - 22% federal tax deduction | residential or commercial • 2022 - 10% federal tax deduction | commercial only In addition to the federal tax credit, solar users can also receive a monthly bill credit from their electric co-op for the excess energy their system produces.

Here’s how it works. Solar panels generate a flow of electricity by allowing photons, or particles of light, to break electrons free from atoms. That electricity is then converted into a safe, usable voltage that flows directly into the home or business. If excess energy is generated, it flows onto the electric grid, where it is used by another member.

“Every hour that an extra kWh is produced from the solar system, that kWh is counted by the meter. At month’s end, the total of those kWhs is added up and credited back to the member at the distributed/ parallel generation rate (DG rate),” says Energy Services Manager Josh Schaffner, Capital Electric Cooperative (CEC). “The current  DG rate is $0.02475/kWh. This rate may change annually, when costs are recalculated.”  There are two main reasons why members are paid at a different
rate for the energy they produce.

First, co-ops have additional costs in constructing and maintaining the grid. Second, on-peak energy is significantly more expensive than energy produced during off-peak times. Most solar systems are at their highest production during off peak
hours.

“Capital Electric Cooperative encourages its members to look into options that help them save money on their electric bill. But, we hope part of their process in making that decision is to contact us, so we can explain exactly how the credit is
distributed and try to give them the best return on their investment,” says Schaffner.

Kubischta says now is the time to invest in a home solar system. “With the way technology has advanced, I wouldn’t hesitate. If you have a gut feeling that this is good for you and also the world, do it. As a homeowner, you have the opportunity to give something back, not just to the electric co-op, but to the community, as well. And, I think it’s a cool thing to do.”

To learn more about the solar systems available through Dakota Solar Energy, visit dakotasolarenergy.com. To learn more about energy saving programs available through CEC, contact Josh Schaffner, (701) 712-7920, or Energy Services Technician Jared Nygaard, (701) 712-7922.

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