Board to consider solar subscription program

Board to consider solar subscription program

Michele Ellson

Photo from the Sacramento Municipal Utility District website.

Alameda Municipal Power may soon provide a subscription solar power service for residents and business owners who aren’t prepared to install their own solar array.

Utility officials will pitch the proposal to the Public Utilities Board tonight, along with options for the program’s structure and customer costs.

Alameda Municipal Power General Manager Glenn Steiger said the utility is pitching the program to give people who can’t put solar panels on their roof the opportunity to access solar power. The list of potential customers includes the more than half of Alamedans who are renters, he said.

“Community solar is an alternative, and it allows those folks who can’t or don’t want to participate in a solar program that looks just like it,” Steiger said.

The program being recommended by power company officials in a staff report to the board is similar to a community sponsored agriculture program; interested participants would buy a share of the company’s solar output each month, rather than a box of produce.

Steiger said the program would operate similar to a resident’s own rooftop panels, which generate energy when the sun is shining.

“We would model generally what you would normally be using at a certain time of day and give you a credit. Or you would pay for the energy coming out of that system,” he said.

Utility officials are proposing to build a system that would provide enough energy to power 65 homes or 18 small businesses full-time. A program with 389 subscribers, who would each get a share of that energy as one of their power sources, would ultimately pay off the program’s estimated cost of $1.45 million, which is the cost of building and operating the system over its expected 25-year life span.

Utility officials are recommending that construction of the proposed solar array be funded by green power sales to other utilities. Alameda Municipal Power sells green power credits to other utilities that aren’t meeting state-mandated thresholds for green power generation – thresholds the local utility far exceeds.

Another option would be to charge subscribers $150 up front for the cost of building the solar array, though Steiger said he’s not recommending that option. Steiger said the utility could also use more of the money from green power credit sales to lower subscribers’ power costs.

Leaders of Community Action for a Sustainable Alameda said they like the idea of making solar power available to people who can’t install a solar array on their rooftop. And they said that a “properly designed program” could be an “interesting test” of Alameda’s support for moving toward totally green power.

But they questioned whether the program would attract enough subscribers to be viable, saying the cost may be too high for consumers and a one-year contract difficult for renters being targeted by the program to sign.

“The community solar plan, as outlined in the staff report, is an interesting idea, but in the proposed form we believe it is likely to be undersubscribed and will not be worth the substantial investment of (green power credit sales) money,” members of the group’s steering committee, who previously convinced the board to set aside to fund efforts to reduce the utility’s carbon footprint, wrote in a statement to The Alamedan.

They also noted that Alameda Municipal Power customers who want green power can participate in the utility’s Alameda Green program, which lets customers purchase all-green power for less than half the cost of the subscription program. That program has 900 subscribers, the staff report says, while another 200 customers have their own rooftop solar panels.

A subscription to the proposed community solar program would cost $13.18 a month, or 22 cents per kilowatt hour – two cents per kilowatt hour more than the top residential power rate and six cents more than the top commercial rate. But it’s a cost Steiger thinks environmentally conscious Alamedans will be willing to pay.

“People do like to know that they’re buying green power. That they’re contributing to cleaning up the environment,” he said.

Seattle City Light and the Sacramento Municipal Utility District are utilities with similar programs, the staff report said.

In their report to the board, staffers said the program could help address a “strong community desire” for solar power. And Steiger said it would offer one other benefit: Visibility for the utility’s green power efforts.

“We’re going to try our very darndest to put these projects in Alameda so if you’re a participant, you can look at it,” he said.

Steiger said utility officials are looking at a handful of potential sites for the solar array now. If the board signs off on the proposal, he said the utility could move ahead in six months and have something up and running in 18 months.

The board meeting begins at 7 p.m. and will be held in council chambers at City Hall, 2263 Santa Clara Avenue.


Submitted by marilyn pomeroy (not verified) on Mon, May 18, 2015

I think an important question to ask, given our island location is "what happens during an earthquake?" Can this power be accessed by residents of Alameda directly or does it depend on a functioning electrical grid?

Submitted by marilyn pomeroy (not verified) on Mon, May 18, 2015

This proposal is costly, 22000 dollars + per household increment, and a 25 year lifetime, during which innovations in solar and the way it is delivered will make it obsolete. See Elon Musk's new "power wall".

Richard Bangert's picture
Submitted by Richard Bangert on Mon, May 18, 2015

This proposal sounds like a gimmick. The uncompetitive rate per kilowatt hour might be marginally justifiable if the solar farm was built in Alameda. But selling Alameda's green power credits to build a pricey solar farm somewhere else does not sound like a good plan. The plan definitely does not add anything to local self-reliance, or resiliency, as would a local solar plant or a more robust rooftop solar program.

The recently announced solar farm project for the West Winton Landfill should serve as inspiration for local efforts. We could get started on Mt. Trashmore, the old city landfill on Doolittle. What better way to promote renewable energy, and solar in particular, than a solar array greeting everyone who passes by. Alameda Point is another opportunity to become more locally self-reliant via solar power.

Submitted by Stephen N. (not verified) on Mon, May 18, 2015

Actually, if you read the staff report more closely, it says: "AMP hopes to site the system in the most optimal site to receive the best solar insolation within its service territory. The system could be roof-mounted, ground-mounted or a combination of both, and either built on public or private property."

Note the words "within its service territory". The installation is planned to be local.