Chugach is planning a 500 kilowatt (kW) Community Solar Project that will allow members to subscribe to receive a portion of their electricity from the solar project. The approximately 1,800 solar panels are expected to generate about 600 megawatt hours (MWh) of electricity per year. The solar project, named Electron Village by employees, will be located on Chugach property near the Southcentral Power Project visible on the east side of Minnesota, between Raspberry and International Airport Road.
This project is being built in response to member interest and Chugach Electric Association’s sustainability business philosophy.
The solar project will be available on a voluntary basis to residential and commercial members as a premium renewable energy product. It will cost a little more, but it will reduce participants' carbon footprint and support the development of renewable energy.
Chugach will offer 500 blocks of the solar project. Each subscriber of a block will receive 1/500th of the energy produced by the solar project monthly. Energy production is expected to be higher in the summer and lower in the winter, depending on the sun’s availability. On average, one block will replace about 17 percent of the average home’s annual energy use (assuming 600 kWh per month average household use). Members may either subscribe monthly, or pre-pay their subscription for the project’s 25-year life. The monthly option allows members to receive solar power without the large up-front cost of a rooftop installation.
To receive a block, members simply subscribe online for a 1-year minimum. The cost per month is expected to be approximately $24. The benefit is expected to average $20 per month at today’s rates (more in summer, less in winter), for a net premium of about $4 per block on average. Any solar energy generated will be subtracted from your bill. If your monthly use was 600 kWh and your solar block produced 150 kWh, your bill will reflect 450 kWh times the current electric rates. It will also include your subscription fee for the solar, unless you prepaid.
The project details were submitted to the Regulatory Commission of Alaska in March 2018. The Commission is expected to issue a final order before March 2019. Pending approval by the Commission, Chugach will start subscribing blocks. When the blocks are 80 percent subscribed, Chugach will initiate construction contracts. Pending the timing of these variables, Chugach plans to build the project in the second half of 2019.
To be notified of project updates and when subscriptions are opened, you may sign up to receive news by email below. Subscriptions could potentially fill quickly based on a survey of members and the number of people signed up to receive notification. To make sure you are able to participate in this project, please register in Chugach's MyAccount portal.
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How does this project compare to rooftop solar?
Whether you choose rooftop solar, community solar, or no solar, the choice is yours. When comparing the economics of community solar project versus a rooftop installation on your home, compare the total cost per lifetime energy output. The total cost ($) or total cost per installed capacity ($/kW) is not the best metric. What really matters is the cost per unit of energy produced ($/ kWh). The community solar project is likely to produce more energy (kWh) per installed capacity (kW) of the solar farm because of the factors listed under optimization below. Ask installers for quotes of the total cost including maintenance, and 25-year kWh generation. Compare those costs to the community solar estimates (which will be finalized after final design is complete) of $4,492 if prepaid and 30,000 kWh. Ensure that you are comparing apples to apples. Ask what variables are used to estimate the energy output (life of the project, total system losses, shadowing, snow load, annual degradation, etc.).
A solar calculator provided by the National Renewable Energy Lab called PVWatts can be a helpful tool for estimating energy output. Just enter your zip code, select a solar data source from the menu (we typically use Anchorage TMY2), and enter basic parameters of your installation to estimate your energy output.
Solar farm optimization
Electron Village will be optimized for energy production by facing due south at the tilt angle that will gather the most energy throughout the year, there will be very little to no shading, and extra panels will be added beyond the 500kW capacity of the inverters to maximize production during non-peak generation times (most daylight hours of the year). Rooftop installations may have shading, may have an azimuth direction that is less ideal (facing southeast as opposed to due south), and the roof pitch may not be as ideal for energy production.
Let’s get technical
The solar installation is expected to have about 1,800 panels, each with a capacity of about 345 Watts (W) for a total panel installed capacity of 621 kilowatts (kW) direct current (DC), and a total inverter and project capacity of 500 kW alternating current (AC). This difference of panel to inverter capacity optimizes the solar farm’s cost performance and provides users additional energy generation per project installed capacity.
The graph shows average household energy use by month as compared to 1, 2 and 3 blocks of community solar estimated production. Members maximize their financial value when solar production does not exceed monthly energy use. Members maximize their carbon footprint reduction when annual solar production approaches the household’s annual energy use.
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