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DayCreek Journal

February 12 , 2004

Kilowatts, Shmilowatts

View from the hill -- Click on the above photo, for a larger image.

In our last episode with our local electric cooperative, I was given an option of giving away all of my excess power. Well, that didn't fly with their lawyer because state law says that I have to sell them my excess power. So, the bottom line given to me a week ago was:

If you are going to install a solar electric system that is grid-intertied, you cannot be on the "Dual-Fuel" program." ...And there is a $200 fee for the installation/administration of a special meter that is the property of the utility and the cooperative needs to be listed on your insurance policy for coverage of General Liability insurance in the amount of $300,000 and Property Loss insurance in the amount of $300,000.

Lovely, isn't it?

This of course would force me into one of two scenarios: either I buy all my power at .075 kW or I install a second, metered service costing me an extra $18.70 per month, plus the installation of a second line. And don't forget the cost of the meter and additional insurance.

Let's take a step back and rehash why I am using the Dual-Fuel program. The Dual-Fuel program comes in handy during the winter months, when I am away from the house visiting my loving wife (Jo) in Illinois. During the overnight hours while electric utilities are still running their generators, but usage is lower, the utilities are nice enough to sell power at a discounted rate, otherwise known as off-peak rate power. I don't need a whole lot of heat, just enough to keep the house from getting too terribly cold. The most economical option was to install a small, 9kW boiler. I really don't like the idea of using electricity to heat the house, but it's cheap and it's primarily used during cloudy periods, while I'm not at the house. (Otherwise, I use the wood stove and solar.) Once we are both living here, the wood stove will be primarily used to backup the solar heating system and the electric boiler may only get used on rare occasions. I have considered trashing the electric boiler completely, but that would force me into purchasing a $2,100 gas boiler that is 95% energy efficient.

I sent an email off to our local utility last Thursday, here's what it read:

"I was reading through the Minnesota Rule 7835.3000 and it is my interpretation of this rule that you are required to sell power to me at the same rate were I not selling power back to your utility.

Can you please clarify for me as to why the Dual Fuel Program does not apply to rule 7835.3000?

Rule 7835.3000 states the following:


Except as otherwise provided in part 7835.3100, rates for
sales to a qualifying facility must be governed by the
applicable tariff for the class of electric utility customers to
which the qualifying facility would belong were it not a
qualifying facility. "

I never did get a reply to my email, but on Tuesday of this week I received a phone call from the CEO of our local utility wanting to let me know that they weren't trying to set up any "road blocks". He explained to me that they had no way of knowing when I might be producing electricity and using the Dual-Fuel program at the same time.

My reply was that I only produce power during daylight hours and there is only a small window during daylight hours in which the Dual-Fuel program is in effect. (During the afternoon, they give you the opportunity to run your electric boiler for about an hour or so.) I also explained that while the sun is shining I have absolutely no need for the Duel-Fuel program. The boiler NEVER kicks in during the day when the sun is shining. (Passive solar alone heats the house up a good six to eight degrees.)

I also explained that I have an electric water tank but the sun does a fine job keeping me in hot water. To make a long story short, I suggested that our local utility change their policy to incorporate solar electric systems. My suggestion was for our local utility to turn off the Dual-Fuel during daylight hours. (They radio control my system anyway!) This way there would be no conflict between their Dual-Fuel program and my solar electric system.

I don't think he liked my idea. He asked me to consider selling my surplus at the discounted, Dual-Fuel rate. This would mean that my surplus power would be sold at 3.5 cents during the winter months and 5 cents per kW during the summer months. The law states that our local utility must buy my power at the average rate of 6.8 cents per kW.

Now based on my meager amount of surplus, the difference between the their proposal and state law is not that great. I might be losing anywhere from $50 to $75 of revenue (credit) per year, but why should I have to concede to any amount?

On the other hand, our local utility could be out some major pennies (facetiously speaking) if they allowed me to keep my Dual Fuel program. Here's why:

If there was brilliant sunshine for every day from November to the end of May and my boiler went on for two hours for each and every day, and I was generating peak power, they would lose $50.40. In reality, the sun doesn't shine every day, and the boiler NEVER comes on while the sun is shining. In reality, our local cooperative wouldn't be losing a single penny!

Turning-Off the Dual Fuel Service During Daylight Hours
A few days later, I decided to contact the actual producers of our grid power.(Our local utility doesn't produce power, they only distribute it.) Our power is produced by Dairyland Power located in La Crosse, WI. And although they do not have control over our local cooperative, they certainly have some "dotted-lines" to them.

My first phone call was to a representative who is responsible for renewable energy. In turns out that Dairyland Power is VERY interested in adding renewable energy to their grid. They already have a number of wind generators and a few bio-digesters in the works. I explained my situation and although he couldn't help me, he did give me a name of the person who is the "button pusher" for the Dual-Fuel program.

I had a very pleasant conversation with the "button pusher". It ends up that he knew quite a bit about solar energy and he himself had built a few passive and active solar homes in his lifetime. I explained my situation and he stated that yes, my Dual-Fuel system could be turned-off during daylight hours. He emphasized that he had no direct control over the policies at our local utility, but he would at least bring it up to them.

This is certainly a positive sign, but who knows how this will all turn out. I guess I'll just have to wait for next week.

Although I have been frustrated over the resistance that I have been getting from our local utility, I feel that part of the problem is the fact that they have no prior knowledge of solar, grid-intertie systems. By putting the issues on the table and talking things through, I am hoping that we will come to some agreement.