Nuns Trying To Build New Orleans Solar Garden Want Fair Price For Power Generated

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In order to help low-income families reduce their energy costs, an order of nuns wants to construct a community solar garden in New Orleans, but a few city regulations pertaining to their Community Solar Program are standing in the way.

At a Tuesday committee meeting of the New Orleans City Council, the Sisters of the Holy Family revealed their plans for a solar hub. In accordance with the city’s Community Solar Program, Sister Alicia Christina Costa informed council members that her convent plans to build a neighborhood solar garden on a 22-acre plot of land in New Orleans East.

The city council created the initiative in 2019 to provide access to electricity savings from solar energy to those who are unable to buy their own solar panels due to renting, being unable to afford them, or for any other reason.

In accordance with the program, one may subscribe to a community solar development anywhere in the city rather than buying solar panels on their own. Customers save money on their electricity bills and obtain bill credits for the energy the solar gardens generate.

Because they are often larger than rooftop solar systems but smaller than utility-scale solar farms, some have referred to such developments as “solar gardens.” As a companion to its Community Lighthouse Project, which primarily offers shelter and emergency electricity during disasters, Together New Orleans, a coalition of civic and religious groups, has assisted in leading the city’s Community Solar Program.

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The project is seen by the Sisters of the Holy Family as a special approach to help the underprivileged in their neighborhood. Sister Alicia said, “We, the sisters, cannot work as we used to because of our aging membership, but we still minister in other ways to support our mission to the poor.”

Since New Orleans’ Community Solar Initiative was introduced four years ago, no solar gardens have been created. The issue, in the opinion of the nuns and other interested parties, is caused by shoddy regulations that have discouraged investment.

During a phone interview, Together New Orleans member Alaina DiLaura said, “The crux of the problem is the tariff rate, An investor would never recoup their investment with the way the rules are currently set up.”

Basically, customers would receive bill credits that do not equal the full value of the electricity produced by the solar gardens under the regulations that the city council established in 2019.

The present tariff rate, according to Logan Burke, executive director of the Alliance for Affordable Energy, is not a fair price. She says that instead of providing full retail value at the same price as households with rooftop solar panels, it essentially gives the customer a wholesale price for the energy. “As a result, it just simply doesn’t pencil in the same way as rooftop solar does,” Burke said.

Another regulation that has caused issues is one that caps the generation capacity of solar gardens at 2 megawatts, which is much lower than the national average of 5 megawatts for community solar programs. “By shifting from 2 megawatts to 5, the economies of scale simply make it more cost effective,” Burke said.

In response to requests to amend the rules, the city council opened a new public comment period for the proposed changes.

“The initial resolution for the community solar project did not produce one — not one — such project as intended,” Sister Alicia said. “Thus, maybe some rules need to change to make it feasible for investors to embark upon such projects.”

While we wish the good nuns the best on achieving their goals in creating a solar garden and helping out their community. It would be nice to know the wholesale rates compared to the desired retail rates in New Orleans. Also, how many other areas that have introduced Community Solar Initiatives have poorly written regulations that actually deter the investment in solar garden projects?

Source: lailluminator

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