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Solar power comes to Olive Hill

New net metering ordinance paves way for art center improvements

By Jeremy D. Wells

Carter County Times

If all goes according to plan, you may soon see solar panels on the roof of the Olive Hill Center for Arts & Heritage.

“We’ve secured all the funding for the solar (panel) system, specifically,” explained director of operations for the Center, Cory Claxon.

They’ve funded the solar cells through a pair of grants, from the solar finance fund through Appalachian Voices and a grant from the Mountain Association.

“Mountain Association granted us $20,000 toward the solar system, and Appalachian Voices gave us $28,000 toward the solar system, plus $14,000 toward (roof repairs),” Claxon explained, noting that the roof needs a total of $71,000 in repairs before solar panels can be installed.

That leaves the center with a $57,000 need to complete the necessary roof repairs. Claxon said they are looking at various funding sources for making up that difference. But, he noted, they have a limited time to make those repairs because of the time frame on the funding available for solar cell installation. If they can’t get the roof repaired in time, they might loose out on the funding offered through the solar upgrade grants.

“Our biggest holdback right now is getting our roof fixed,” he said, noting there is no reason to install the solar panels if the roof can’t hold them, or they have to be removed when existing damage to the roof gets worse and repairs can’t be delayed any longer.

It’s been a long process, beginning with approaching the city about the possibility of changing ordinances to allow it.

“We asked the city back (in March) to pass the net metering ordinances,” Claxon said.

While everyone seemed to be on board, there were details that needed to be worked out. In August, he explained, the city attorney came forward with his first draft proposal for a new ordinance, and council had their first reading of that in September, passing it on second reading last month.

For a while, he said, the city had concerns about passing it, because of their contract with AEP. As it turns out, however, AEP isn’t able to prevent the city from allowing solar or other alternative energy systems within city limits.

“The line in there says they can’t purchase power from another entity, and they can’t generate their own power. It doesn’t say anything about customers getting credit for energy,” Claxon said.

With the new ordinance, which Claxon described as “the most progressive” energy policy the city has ever seen, anyone who installs solar panels, wind turbines, or other alternative energy will not only save money while using the alternative energy instead of the power grid, they will also receive credits on their energy bill. Those credits will be provided for any power they feed into the grid during hours they are producing more energy than they use.

So, if it’s a sunny day and no one is home using electricity, a homeowner could be getting credit towards energy they need to pull from the grid on a less sunny day.

“We’re not getting paid for it,” Claxon explained. “It’s just that it will be a net credit on our bill.”

He said the system being designed for the Center for Arts and Heritage, “will offset 62 percent of our energy usage for the historic building.”

That doesn’t include the Shoppes on the Hill building. But even with financing the remainder of the roof repairs, Claxon said, “we stand to save about $7,000 a year.”

Claxon said because of the age of the building it takes a lot of electricity to heat and cool the building.

He said it was “immensely” expensive, “because it’s all mostly electric heat, especially the gym, which is why our rates are higher… because it is just so expensive to run.”

In addition to the grants and funding from the Mountain Association and Appalachian Voices, Claxon said, there is also a refund the Center can get from the federal government if they get the system installed in a timely manner.

“The other part of that is we would get at least 30 percent back from the federal government next year, if we can get the project completed before the end of the year. Because unlike a regular person or business, we don’t get tax credits (as a non-profit). So, there’s never been an incentive for a non-profit really to do this sort of thing, except to lower their energy bill. To replace that, they now have a direct pay program that’s supposed to mimic tax credits. So we would actually get up to 30 percent of the installation cost as a check written to us, which we would just pass on to the loan for that.”

Regardless of what happens with the Center’s roof, Claxon said he is proud of the steps Olive Hill Council took to pass the ordinance.

“It’s probably the most progressive thing Olive Hill City Council has done in the past 20 years, and the most business friendly thing,” he said. “Now it’s just primarily getting the word out to our businesses that could also benefit from being able to do net metering.”

Contact the writer at editor@cartercountytimes.com



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