City of Alachua buying back electricity

ALACHUA – Alachua residents who own solar panels or other forms of renewable energy regeneration systems, and get their electricity from the City of Alachua, now have a way to save money by producing more energy than they consume.

Monday night, the city commission passed at the first public hearing, an ordinance that provides the terms and the process for individuals or businesses if they wish to produce and sell energy back to the City.  The ordinance, which includes written policy, application fees and insurance requirements, provides for interconnection and net metering of customer-owner regeneration systems to the City’s electric system.

If customers produce more power than needed for their residence or business, the surplus energy feeds back into the electric grid to provide electricity for other users.  The customer providing the surplus energy receives credits valued at retail rates for use in future months. Should any energy credits remain at the end of the fiscal year, the customer receives cash back from the City at wholesale avoided cost rate, which is the average cost the city pays for energy.

The ordinance also sets a cap of 2.5 percent of customers that can connect to the City's electric system with their own power. Barry Moline, Executive Director of Florida Municipal Electric Association, explained the cap is necessary to prevent too many energy producers from over producing electricity, and gaining credits rather than paying for electricity.  The customers generating power, but not paying, are essentially using the city’s distribution system infrastructure, such as lines and poles, at no charge.

But because the cap is on the percent of customers, and not a set number, as the number of customers increase, the more systems can be accepted into the program.

A cap is also set on the size of solar panels to prevent producers from planning to sell high volumes of excess energy, becoming “like a generator” for the City, Moline said.

State law has required for several years that all municipally owned electric service providers have an interconnection agreement and a net metering program for customer owned renewable generation, which allows them to sell renewable electricity back to the utility.  In many cases, municipalities only implement the agreement when there is a demand for it.

Monday night, Jeffrey Tate, President and CEO of NanoSonic Products, said, “I guess I am the demand.”  Tate’s company has recently had solar panels installed on the roof of his company, located across the street from the Progress Corporate Park in Alachua.  Tate said the 34 kilowatt photovoltaic system had just received final inspection.

“Our system will give our company an unfair competitive advantage globally for the next 30 years, and that means I’ll be able to continue to employ people here in the city of Alachua and be in business,” Tate added.

The ordinance will come before the commission again for approval at the required second public hearing.