Salt River members may go solar

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By Randy Patrick

Salt River Electric’s co-op members will have an opportunity, starting this fall, to help save the environment and maybe, eventually, save a little green.

Kentucky’s Touchstone Energy Cooperatives broke ground this month on a 60-acre solar farm in Clark County.

East Kentucky Power Cooperative, the Winchester-based supplier for the 16 electric co-ops that own it, will use the farm’s 32,300 solar panels to generate 8.4 megawatts of energy. That’s only a miniscule part of the 3,000 megawatts the supplier generates in all, mostly by burning coal and natural gas at its three power plants, but the project is one of the co-ops’ moves toward greener energy.

Nicky Rapier of Salt River Electric in Bardstown said the local co-op’s participation means that any member-customer can pay $460 for a panel and receive a 25-year lease on it. It’s easier and more cost-effective than installing their own panels at home, because they won’t have to maintain or worry about losing their investment in a hail storm like the one that recently damaged houses in Nelson County, he said.

They would get a credit for whatever price the energy is selling for on their bills, and the credits would be recorded by metering.

“This is an opportunity for any Salt River member to do this,” Rapier said. “There is a potential for savings, but it’s not a super-fast payback.”

A typical panel is rated at 335 watts, Rapier said.

“That’s about what it takes to run a blender,” he said.

At 3.5 cents per hour, a homeowner might double his or her money over the period of the lease at current rates, but the cost of solar is expected to continue to decline as the costs of coal and other sources rise.

“There is a good chance that it will become more and more affordable,” said Tim Sharp, president and chief executive officer of Salt River Electric.

Cost savings, however, are not the main concern; saving the environment by reducing carbon emissions and promoting renewable energy are.

“This is something our customers have been asking for,” said Kay Lewis, marketing and advertising coordinator for Salt River.

Rapier said that of the co-op’s 50,000 or so members, more than 40 currently have solar panels on their property.

“It’s something we’re letting our members participate in if they want to, because they like to have choices,” he said.

Electric cooperatives are nonprofit energy companies that are owned by the customers. The co-ops, in turn, own EKPC, the supplier in Winchester.

The $17.7 million Cooperative Solar project is expected to be completed in November. It will be one of the largest solar projects in Kentucky.