Will solar panels made in Miss. be used in Miss.?

August 26, 2011

Economic Development, Energy

Solar cell

Although Mississippians will be manufacturing solar panels at Stion in Hattiesburg, they will find it difficult to use the company’s products at home unless the state Public Service Commission adopts a uniform net-metering policy.

Stion touts its residential products on its website: “Stion’s panels can help you save money on your electricity bill, gain energy independence and increase your property’s re-sale value. Stion panels can offset high peak electricity rates …”

Net metering programs enable customers to generate their own electricity, connect into a utility’s transmissions grid, and receive retail prices from a utility for excess power. The Commission already has a rule in place regarding net metering, but uniform utility standards have not been created.

Solar panel users must connect their panels to a utility’s transmissions grid unless they own battery systems that can store the solar-generated energy. Battery systems are costly, require frequent maintenance and must be changed out every few years.

In addition to rates, net-metering issues include safety and liability insurance, connection fees and maintenance of the transmissions grid.

Currently, very few solar users are connected to utility grids in Mississippi: Entergy Mississippi has six self-generating customers, and Mississippi Power Company has one self-generating customer. TVA, the federal power producer serving a portion of northeast Mississippi, has several users as part of its Generation Partners program. TVA is not regulated by the Commission.

The Commission has opened a docket on net-metering and is considering input from stakeholders.

Both Entergy and Mississippi Power have expressed concern about interconnecting customers being held responsible for paying their fair share of interconnecting and also about safety issues.

In a letter to the Commission Entergy said it must address whether net metering is “being used to jump-start commercial enterprises that hope to sell higher priced electricity than the utility can provide to customers” and whether “other (non-net metering) customers (will) have to pay costs caused by or not paid by net metering customers.”

Solar enthusiasts note that investor-owned, regulated utilities make a profit by building energy infrastructure. Solar panel users who generate their own electricity do not add to a utility’s bottom line.

Renewable energy initiative 25 X ‘25 wants Mississippi to join the 46 others states that it says have adopted uniform net metering standards. The initiative, led by Brent Bailey, said in a letter to the Commission that utilities should not be allowed to restrict customer eligibility, charge unclear fees or require unreasonable liability insurance.

The Mississippi Technology Alliance has also intervened in the net-metering docket. The director of Strategic Biomass Solutions, housed under the MTA, Dr. Sumesh Arora wrote that “utilizing renewable energy resources is a way for consumers to reduce demand for fuels like coal and natural gas that are used to generate electricity.”

Solar becoming more economically feasible

While it doesn’t make economic sense for most Mississippians to buy solar panels right now without help from grants, that should change in the future as traditionally generated electricity becomes more expensive and the cost of solar panels decreases due to technological advancements.

Most American states outside the South have renewable energy programs because they are financially motivated to do so, since they have higher electricity rates, said Dr. James Fenton, director of the Florida Solar Energy Center, the state’s energy research institute.

Using summer 2009 numbers, for example, Mississippians paid an average of 10.1 cents per kilowatt hour for electricity, while citizens in New Jersey paid 16.6 cents.

Fenton said of Mississippi: “Your problem is electricity out of the wall is too cheap.”

The Center predicts that prices for solar-generated electricity in some Southern states could drop to the prices of traditionally generated electricity as early as 2015. When that happens, Southern consumers will become more interested in buying their own solar panels.

Fenton isn’t as quick to criticize state or federal subsidies of solar companies.

“It’s hard to say what will be successful,” he said, since the market, the technology and a company’s business plan are all factors in success or failure. However, Fenton believes homeowners will eventually have solar panels on their roofs, but the question is whether they will be made in America or China.

See related story: “Stion: bankruptcy not in the plans.”

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4 Responses to “Will solar panels made in Miss. be used in Miss.?”

  1. Tom Says:

    Ms. McCullough implies there is some injustice about the lack of demand for solar panels in Mississippi and that the MPSC and/or utilities are some how to be blamed. Of course, there was no discussion how much this would cost taxpayers or other utility customers. The only reference to cost was the most ridiculous quote I have seen in years. When discussing why solar panels may not be feasible in Mississippi the quote states “Fenton said of Mississippi: “Your problem is electricity out of the wall is too cheap.” Are you kidding me? So is the MBJ/McCullough supporting a need to increase utility costs (and taxes) to 2.5 million Mississippians so Stion and special interests can sell solar panels? Maybe I am confused, but I actually like lower cost electricity. What am I missing here? Also, I just checked, I can buy all the solar panels I want for my home in Mississippi right now. MBJ please send me a check for $50,000 to help offset the cost. Right!

  2. Barbara Correro Says:

    I live in the footprint of the Kemper County lignite mine currently being constructed. As long as Mississippi has poor leadership and local people that do not believe in the preservation of the environment nor in global climate change, there will be no progress. How many people do you know went to Jackson in July of 2011 to the net metering seminar?

  3. SolarUniverseCal Says:

    Solar power is really the only way to go. We all need to do our part to spread the word. It’s just about getting the word out that solar and going green takes “just about the same effort”.

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