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LPEA looks to ensure safe installation and interconnection of solar panels

By Indiana Reed
Special to The SUN

Member/customers of La Plata Electric Association (LPEA) who plan to install solar PV (photovoltaic) panels on their homes or office buildings, and who intend to be interconnected to LPEA’s system and participate in the net metering program, are asked to contact the electric cooperative regarding potential safety and compatibility issues prior to beginning the process.

“We completely support our members who want to install solar,” said Mark Schwantes, manager of corporate services. “But we want to stress the importance of letting us know before you install and try to connect to the grid. It’s not as simple as just putting up the panels.”

As part of LPEA’s commitment to renewable energy, the cooperative’s net metering program allows owners of on-site renewable generation systems the ability to interconnect with LPEA’s system, feeding power into the electric grid and thereby spinning their meters backwards. In essence, LPEA serves as the “back up battery,” virtually storing solar electric generation to be provided back to the customer when the sun isn’t shining. More than 440 photovoltaic (and wind) generators are currently interconnected with LPEA’s electric distribution system.

“The key is, we do need to do a pre-inspection before you begin installation,” said Richard Archuleta, LPEA energy management specialist. “It’s all about safety. If you have inadequate LPEA electrical equipment, it might not be capable of handling the proposed solar array, and your new array may not work as you expect. Let us complete our engineering review at your specific location and situation before you go to an installer.”

LPEA also will establish a baseline of energy consumption prior to a member’s initiation of generation, which give members an idea of how to size a system. LPEA does not, however, make recommendations for solar installers or recommend a system’s size, configuration or location.

“We’re not in the solar installation business,” said Schwantes. “We are very fortunate to have many reputable and experienced solar installers working and living in LPEA’s service territory. Our business is to distribute electricity safely — and we’re very conscientious about that.”

With LPEA’s net metering program, the cooperative allows the meter to spin backwards up to the point where a member’s monthly generation offsets all their monthly usage. The excess generation is banked and carried over for a 12-month period ending in April. Then, in April of each year, the member is credited at LPEA’s average wholesale cost.

Arrays that are not installed in harmony with LPEA’s system may not record electricity generation correctly, and customers will not be credited for their generation. Also, systems installed without proper coordination with LPEA’s system could result in overloaded electrical equipment or unacceptable voltage levels at the installation location.

“Come see us first, and then begin the process of analyzing your options, designing the array, purchasing equipment and talking to an installer,” said Archuleta. “Be an active part of the process. We want your system to work as it’s supposed to, and we want to make sure it’s safe. Please call us.”

For more information on the process for solar interconnection to LPEA’s system, contact Archuleta at 382-3504 or rarchuleta@lpea.coop.

This story was posted on November 7, 2013.