Earlier this week, the McPherson Board of Public Utilities quietly implemented a new policy that could make a big difference for those thinking about purchasing renewable energy generators for their homes.
Beginning in February, BPU customers will be able to sell excess power back to the utility, managing the amount of energy bought from and sold to BPU through net metering.
The utility has allowed customers to sell energy generated at their homes by renewable means for some time, but the old system paid home producers based on wholesale prices, making the system unappealing to many who might otherwise install a renewable generator on their property.
It would be wrong to suppose even for a moment that BPU's decision to implement net metering will result in hordes of customers lining up to have renewable systems hooked up to their homes. Frankly, odds are pretty high that very few people if any at all actually enter a net metering agreement with BPU in the next year.
Renewable energy is expensive, particularly for individual families trying to install a wind turbine or solar array. Considering the capital required to install such a system, it would probably take a good 20 to 30 years before a reasonably-sized series of solar panels paid for itself in energy savings.
But today's energy climate is not that of tomorrow, or next year, or five years from now. A lot can change very quickly, and the currently high costs of renewable energy might not be so outrageous in the near future.
Just look at the solar energy. In the 1970s it cost about $150 to create one watt of energy with a solar array. By 1998 that cost had dropped to under $5, and the costs are considerably lower today than they were just 14 years ago.
Simply having the option of utilizing net metering might encourage more BPU customers to make the leap into renewables, too. Looking around the world, it's easy to see that when local and federal governments make alternative energy affordable through cooperation and, occasionally, subsidization, smart citizens invest.
In Germany, 3 percent of the country's total energy came from solar panels, many of which were purchased by individuals who sold power back to producers from home. The citizens of Spain and Japan have made similar moves towards personally-owned renewable energy sources, spurred by government entities friendly to such methods of power generation.
It would be great to learn at the end of 2012 that a dozen BPU customers have installed net metering systems to share the clean, renewable energy made at their homes with the greater community. In truth, the idea of only one homeowner deciding to pump pollutant-free power back into our transmission lines is worth smiling about.
—The McPherson Sentinel editorial board
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