Frederick Friends Common Energy

Bob Hanson, center, standing, and Carlotta Joyner, left, with laptop, discuss solar power under Common Energy with Frederick Friends members Sunday.

More than a dozen members of a local Quaker group met in a large meeting room at its Meeting House just north of downtown Frederick, to discuss switching to solar energy without installing panels.

That group, Frederick Friends, mostly spoke about Common Energy, a New York-based renewable energy company that will be the company charging residential customers for their 2,000 kilowatt solar array in Williamsport.

The array is estimated to power up to 350 homes, and Common Energy will offer yearly contracts estimated to save consumers $10-20 monthly, The Frederick News-Post previously reported.

Bob Hanson of Jefferson and Carlotta Joyner of Middletown presented the company and fielded questions from other Frederick Friends members Sunday afternoon.

Hanson said before the meeting the goal of encouraging people to buy energy from companies like Common Energy is to get them to depend less on fossil fuels, like coal.

Many Frederick Friends members already do so, whether it be through buying wind energy from other companies or having solar panels installed on their house, Hanson said.

“We want to see local solar being produced here, so our use of fuel for our energy is a renewable energy source,” Hanson said.

Hanson and Joyner both explained the billing model to members during their meeting: Common Energy, based on its estimates of power generation from the Williamsport array—known as the Rockdale Solar Array—should be able to provide 90 percent of a residential customer’s power on a monthly basis, for up to 350 homes.

The other 10 percent would come from Potomac Edison, the primary energy provider for the region, they added. Consumers would see roughly a 10 percent on the Common Energy portion of their bill, they said.

Joyner told members one of her favorite aspects about the program was that it was only a one-year commitment, and you could cancel with 90 days’ notice to Common Energy.

“To me, it’s like, what’s the risk?” she said.

Some asked whether the energy being produced was actually going to be sent to their homes. Joyner and Hanson said there’s no way to specifically ensure power from the grid would be directly sent—but that by buying energy, they were “starting” the trend of switching to renewable energy.

Joyner said before Sunday’s meeting she already signed up for Common Energy, and was impressed by its customer service.

“In general, when I do the chat room ... they’ll usually answer pretty quickly,” Joyner said. “And then, they’ll send a follow-up email and I can follow up with other questions ... it seems to be staffing 24/7 with them.”

When she used its chat service Sunday, a customer service representative answered within five minutes, noting the company would power 350 homes or until the amount of power from the 2,000 kilowatt grid had run out.

The representative added the grid will go online even if the company can’t recruit 350 customers.

Ultimately, joining Common Energy is a good move for the environment, Hanson said.

“It’s one of those choices that has big advantages,” he said.

Follow Steve Bohnel on Twitter: @Steve_Bohnel

Steve Bohnel is the county government reporter for the Frederick News-Post. He can be reached at sbohnel@newspost.com. He graduated from Temple University, with a journalism degree in May 2017, and is a die-hard Everton F.C. fan.

(10) comments

glenkrc

If this is a 2,000 kW system, it should only be able to power ~240 "nominal" homes, that is, assuming a nominal usage of 1031 kw-hr/month. But actual usage in "real" homes (that are single, detached residences) that don't rely on gas or oil for winter heat is going to be much higher (more than 2,000 kW-hr/month).

It sounds like this outfit is taking folks to the cleaners.

Of course, the vendor will only make money because of Federal and State subsidies in place. Such a scam.

joelp77440

Wow, that's an old 60's hippie crew.

DickD

All you really doing, when you buy solar from a large supplier, is guaranting a given price and making sure that your grid suppliers have to buy solar. You are also reducing some grid changes. This is good for you but it means others will need to pay more for a guaranteed distribution charge. Because of the anarchic way grid suppliers charge for their services. The really good part is the short term contract.

MD1756

I don't think commercial solar has any impact on distribution charges. Others aren't charged more for distribution because commercial solar is generation only and not net metering. Even if other consumers of energy from the grid are "subsidizing" those who choose to use a green source, it is not really any different than requiring those without children to subsidize those who have children other than subsidizing green energy is good for everyone (environmental and health benefits) whereas subsidizing having children mostly beneficial only to the parents and is only good in that providing children with an education is better than not having an education but making it easier for people to have children and thus continue to increase the problems of human overpopulation is bad, and personally I believe the bad outweighs the good in the case of population growth). Additionally I am skeptical of industry estimates of costs unless they have clearly taken into consideration that solar reduces the need for peaking units (expensive to operate) and reduces transmission losses since the distribution is from one house to the next demand which is often your next door neighbor). For losses see: http://insideenergy.org/2015/11/06/lost-in-transmission-how-much-electricity-disappears-between-a-power-plant-and-your-plug/. So solar saves them 6% on transmission and distribution costs. Finally there is the cost to everyone that power companies are not paying (externalized costs) when they discharge tons of mercury into the air, cause asthma or make it worse thus causing additional medical expenses, etc. Finally there are the external costs of coa mining oil and gas drilling, leaks in transporting oi and gas etc. which causes further harm to everyone that the energy companies are not paying for. So to me it seems unreasonable to complain about the impact of solar on distribution charges because I doubt seriously it adds to everyone's cost the way using fossil fuel as an energy source does. Is it better to penalize those using "dirty" energy or reward those who use clean energy? For an analysis of the true costs of fossil fuels see: https://www.ucsusa.org/clean-energy/coal-and-other-fossil-fuels/hidden-cost-of-fossils.

mrnatural1

Testify MD! [thumbup]

DickD

Fossil fuels are not clean, solar is. If you want solar for that reason great. But you are missing the point on cost. That solar being generated has to go somewhere. And to get it to homes it needs the grid. Without the grid it's worthless. The people contract for the solar generation are enabling the solar company to sell at a higher price than the cost of fossil fuels used for generation. More importantly the grid has a distribution charge cheaper than the costs to supply energy when solar is not being generated and it will never compensate the grid companies for repair costs to ensure that there will always be power for the solar companies. Eventually, the grid companies will need to file new tariffs. If they don't, those not getting solar will be paying for the solar companies customer rates that are cheaper than the true costs of distribution for a back up power system, because if they did not have the grid, they would not be getting guaranteed power. I fully agree those costs have not been passed on yet and the solar customers are getting a great deal. Some day the grid companies will wake up and file new tariffs, when they do, solar customers are not going to be so happy. Some grid companies have already filed higher tariffs for the distribution charges.

mrnatural1

DickD, First off, I'll admit I know very little about distribution charges and the numerous other fees and taxes listed on an electric bill. That said, I was under the impression that when a customer switches suppliers, the only part of the bill that changes is the cost per KWh. I thought all other fees stayed the same. What am I missing?

DickD

Your comparison to being taxed more because you don't have children and others do is interesting, but how would apply that? Would you make those with children bear all of the costs? If so, would you not pay after their graduation? What would you do for those unable to pay for their children's education? How would we get a highly educated work force?

mrnatural1

DickD, I know your questions are directed at MD1756, but I thought I'd give my perspective. You asked: Q: "Would you make those with children bear all of the costs?" A: Yes, to the extent they are able to pay. Why shouldn't parents cover 100% of the costs associated with raising their own children? Q: "If so, would you not pay after their graduation?" A: I'm not sure what you mean. Graduation from high school? College? Even if the parents qualify for some assistance, that would generally be cut off when the child(ren) turn 18, certainly after age 21. Q: "What would you do for those unable to pay for their children's education?" A: As with other expenses related to raising children, the cost of education -- K>12 and college -- should be paid by the parents to the extent they are able to afford it. I believe strongly in our public education system, and while my wife and I do not have kids, we do not regret the tens of thousands of dollars we've paid to support the FCPS system. That said, there is absolutely no reason why we -- or anyone else -- should pay for the education of children whose parents can easily afford the cost. We want our money to subsidize the cost of educating children whose parents actually NEED the assistance. Put another way -- every dollar that goes to pay the costs associated with educating the child(ren) from a wealthy family is a dollar that could be better spent elsewhere. Why are we giving (almost) free education, generous tax breaks, and subsidized health insurance premiums to people making a solid 6-figure income? Our current system has working class and lower middle class people paying more taxes so that wealthy couples with kids can pay less! That is immoral. However, my primary concern is overpopulation and all of the associated problems. We should not be encouraging people to have children by providing all sorts of special subsidies; tax breaks; additional time off (beyond what their coworkers receive), etc, etc. We should not penalize people for having kids either -- just treat everyone the same. Obviously we must care for babies and children and make sure they have what they need to be happy and healthy. It's not their fault if their parents are selfish, short-sighted, and/or irresponsible -- but that doesn't mean we should give ALL parents special treatment. That's part of the problem. People know that no matter how irresponsible they are, their children will be taken care of. That's as it should be, but it makes it more difficult to make sure all babies are born into a safe, healthy, loving home -- with parents who can pay for their care. America is already at about double its sustainable population. With that in mind, people are not doing society any favors by having babies. If they want to that's their right, but each child born here in the US cannot help but cause a certain amount of environmental harm and use renewable and non-renewable resources. The worst thing a person can do to the environment is have a child. Obviously I'm not suggesting that no one should reproduce, but while they are free to have as many children as they want, the responsible thing to do is to have no more than 2 per couple.

MD1756

No, Dick, you are consistently missing the point on costs. The costs of using dirty fuel is passed onto everyone through issues caused by the release of tons of mercury into the environment every year, increased trips to the hospital because of NOx and SO2, private wells being contaminated from leakage from coal ash pounds/impoundments that leak ( and most do), etc. Did you read the paper from the Union of Concerned Scientists as just one example (I also know some of the costs becuase I used to work in the US EPA's Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance for 27 years)? Even the industry's own group's publication T & D World has an article (see: https://www.tdworld.com/generation-renewables/solar-customers-not-covering-grid-costs) about the costs alleging solar customers are not paying their fair share but do not include all of the benefits of avoided costs that solar offers (see the Union of Concerned Scientists for the true costs). In T&D World's article (https://www.tdworld.com/generation-renewables/solar-customers-not-covering-grid-costs) Matthew Cordaro (a trustee at Long Island Power Authority) states “In spite of all that has been written, the penetration of solar and other renewables has not reached a point to menace the financial health of many utilities. For the most part, utilities are still able to collect their fixed costs from the base rate in delivery charges for both solar and non-solar customers.†Power generation from all solar (not just residential) makes up less than 2% of all electricity going through the grid. If you look at residential solar it is less (I don’t know the percentage). Commercial solar pays the full transmission and distribution charges (residential does not if there is net metering). So, it is only a small percentage of electric customers that get the benefit (those who are helping human health and the environment by using solar). The argument about having children, the impact on taxes etc. was an example where I subsidize something like 30% of the state’s budget and over 50% of MoCo’s local budget for a service I don’t use. I am not arguing that I pay no taxes for educating children but having children is a choice and parents are taxed less to educate the children than those who have no children. That has been around a long time and is a much higher cost that those using electricity from “dirty†sources are paying those for clean energy (we won’t even consider the benefits those producing clean energy bring to others). My electric bills (before solar and geothermal) were not thousands of dollars a year but my sales, income, property, etc. taxes amount to well over $10,000 per year. So, even if for example, only one-third is devoted to public education ($3,333+), that’s a much greater subsidy to people who chose to have children than those who use “dirty†sources of energy are paying to those of us who are using clean sources of energy (and again, I’m not even considering the benefits provided to everyone by my using clean sources of energy (solar and geothermal). If parents were required to pay just the same as I do, they’d still be getting a great deal. If they were to pay twice as much in taxes, that would be closer to the impact of their choices on my income taxes (remember, it’s not just education we are taxed for but social programs to pay for food and health care that parents can’t pay for their own children). The growing human overpopulation of the world is not providing a benefit to everyone, but using solar and geothermal to reduce our adverse impacts on human health and the environment is. You might as well argue that those who decrease their energy demand by buying energy efficient products are imposing a higher cost on those who don’t, because they consume less electricity than they used to but there is still the same ancient grid to maintain. Should we also place a higher distribution fee for those who buy energy star products?

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