The Real Value of Solar Power Investment in WV

WV politicians and regulators have proven to be downright hostile to solar power development in our state.  The two coal-fired Ohio power companies that control their thinking push expensive scrubbers and gizmos on their power plants to keep from emitting deadly chemical waste into our air.

In the recent testimony at the WV PSC concerning AEP’s coal plants, we learned that AEP spent hundreds of millions of dollars on scrubbers to remove sulfur emissions, and the company still has to buy expensive low sulfur coal.

WV’s Ohio power companies, AEP and FirstEnergy, and their friends, sabotaged the 2009 Alternative and Renewable Portfolio Standard law so they won’t have to buy any real renewable energy credits to meet the requirements of the ARPS – through 2026, when the law expires.  The 2013 WV Legislature made things even worse when they allowed the tax credit for investment in solar generation to expire without renewing it.

In WV, our state government has declared, through these actions, that solar power generation has no value, while politicians and regulators think nothing of channeling hundreds of millions of citizens’ dollars into pollution control for coal plants.

In May, Kyle Siler-Evans, Inês Lima Azevedo, M. Granger Morgan, and Jay Apt, from the engineering and business departments at Carnegie Mellon, published a paper titled “Regional Variations in the Health, Environmental, and Climate Benefits of Wind and Solar Generation.”  In the paper, the authors demonstrated that all investment in renewable power is not equal, in terms of its value in reducing sulfur, nitrate/nitrite and carbon emissions.

When wind or solar energy displace conventional generation, the
reduction in emissions varies dramatically across the United States.
Although the Southwest has the greatest solar resource, a solar panel
in New Jersey displaces significantly more sulfur dioxide, nitrogen
oxides, and particulate matter than a panel in Arizona, resulting in 15
times more health and environmental benefits. A wind turbine in
West Virginia displaces twice as much carbon dioxide as the same
turbine in California. Depending on location, we estimate that the
combined health, environmental, and climate benefits from wind or
solar range from $10/MWh to $100/MWh, and the sites with the
highest energy output do not yield the greatest social benefits in
many cases. We estimate that the social benefits from existing wind
farms are roughly 60% higher than the cost of the Production Tax
Credit, an important federal subsidy for wind energy. However, that
same investment could achieve greater health, environmental, and
climate benefits if it were differentiated by region.

The Carnegie Mellon paper also includes the following map, showing the areas of the country where investment in solar power provides the most benefit reducing health harming chemicals from electric power generation.

As you can see, WV is in the part of the country where solar power investment creates the most value.  Here’s what the authors say:

Solar panels in Indiana, Ohio, or West Virginia achieve significant
health and environmental benefits by displacing coal-fired
generators. Despite a poor solar resource, a 1-kW PV panel in
Ohio provides $105 in health and environmental benefits per year
($75/MWh)—15 times more than the same panel in Arizona.

For those of you who are not familiar with calculating electrical generation, here is an explanation of the conversion.  The reference here is to a 1 kW PV panel.  This statement refers to the maximum output of generating capacity of a solar panel.  In this case, 1000 watts or 1 kW.  This is maximum rated output, so a panel rated at 1 kW will not be producing at this rate, because the panel will only be producing maximum electricity when the sun is exactly perpendicular to the panel, a brief period during the day, only on sunny days.  The rest of the time, the panel will produce at a lower rate.

But rated capacity is not how we measure the actual output, because we measure electrical output by how much electricity is produced in an hour, or, as we see on our electric bills, kilowatt hours or kwh.  In the quote above, the Carnegie Mellon authors state that a hypothetical solar panel, rated with a maximum capacity of 1 kilowatt, kW, will produce enough kilowatt hours to generate a benefit of $75 for every 1000 kwh (expressed in the statement above as megawatt hours, MWh, or 1000 kwh).

For example, my current PV system, rated at 1.38 kW maximum capacity, produces about 1250 kwh per year or 1.25 MWh.  So, using the benefit calculated by the Carnegie Mellon paper, my system contributes a health value to my fellow citizens of WV and the US of about $94 per year.  And those are just the health benefits.

Do I, or any other solar power producer in WV, get compensated for the benefits  we provide to our fellow West Virginians? No.  We get nothing.  In states with real renewable portfolio standards, like Maryland where solar power producers earn $130 for every MWh they produce, solar producers are paid fairly for the contributions they make to the electrical system and the health of their fellow citizens.

But not in WV.

I have not provided a link to the Carnegie Mellon paper, because it is available for purchase only.  You can buy the paper for $10 here.

4 thoughts on “The Real Value of Solar Power Investment in WV

  1. Meanwhile they keep pushing the idea that if grid-tied solar producers get any credit at all it’s a big ripoff of their fellow electric consumers who can’t afford panels but have to pay for the infrastructure upkeep. But in WV, grid-tied customers have to pay a minimum monthly fee even if they always supply a surplus, like my neighbors. Arizona recently proposed a $100/month bill for net-tied customers!! Makes me glad my system is off-grid so I can just propose they have relations with the horse they rode in on.

    • Mary is referring to the $5 per month “service charge” that all Mon Power customers pay, whether they use electricity or not. This is not a minimum fee, because all Mon Power rate payers pay it. For a full explanation of WV electric rates, see my post here.

      • Well, I did read that post and I still don’t see why a rate all customers pay whether they use any power or not is not a “minimum fee.” As for the other point that post brings up–that WV power customers pay lower rates if they use more power–could that not be changed with legislation (I know, fat chance) and don’t some places charge big users MORE?

      • It’s only a minimum fee if you don’t buy any electricity. But it is a charge on all customers every month. So it’s a way of guaranteeing that everyone pays a different rate and the more you use the lower rate you pay. That’s not a minimum fee. That’s a sliding scale that subsidizes more electricity use.

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