By Errol Castens/NEMS Daily Journal
OXFORD – Think of solar panels on a home, and the first image to come to mind may be a log cabin far from the nearest power line.
Lowry and Marla Lomax’s expansive, two-story colonial in one of Oxford’s historic neighborhoods – a literal stone’s throw from the University of Mississippi campus – doesn’t quite fit the stereotype. Nevertheless, its south roof features a triangular array of solar panels that can generate a rated 5.1 kilowatts of electricity.
TVA under its Green Partners program will pay the couple 12 cents above retail for every kilowatt-hour of power they create for the next 10 years, and the federal government offers a 30 percent tax credit on the cost of installation. Lowry Lomax sees the solar generator as both a societal benefit and a good investment.
“I think the more you read, the more you realize we’re going to have to go to renewable sources of energy, and we just decided to go ahead and pull the trigger on this,” he said. “I believe that it will pay for itself in 10 to 12 years … assuming the energy prices we have today. My guess is that they will be going up in the future, and that will shorten that payoff period.”
Oxford Electric Department and North East Mississippi Electric Power Association are reportedly the only Mississippi utilities currently participating in TVA’s Green Partner program. Because the state has no net-metering law, other utilities are free to buy electricity from customers at wholesale rates, which are far less than the homeowner would be paying.
“If you were in Jackson or the Gulf Coast, you would be getting three cents a kilowatt-hour for all the power that’s flowing back on the line versus the (retail plus 12 cents) that TVA’s paying,” said Will Hegman of Mississippi Solar, the Philadelphia-based company that designed and oversaw installation of the solar system on the five-year-old home.
The solar-generated electricity goes into TVA’s system and is sold through member utilities to customers willing to pay extra to support such sustainable means. Given that solar generators reach peak production on hot summer afternoons just when demand on the grid is greatest, such installations save TVA money by reducing the generating capacity it has to build in coal- or nuclear-powered plants to meet peak demand.
“That’s going to benefit not only Mr. Lomax but other TVA customers as well in the long run,” said Lynn Robbins, superintendent of Oxford Electric Department.
Hegman noted that solar systems can cost $7.40 to $10 per watt of capacity, but once they have paid for themselves, their energy essentially will be cost-free.
“The sizing of the system sometimes gets a little convoluted and requires a lot of coordination, but once it’s in place, there are no moving parts and not much to break,” he said. “Essentially, you’ve got a system with a 30-year life.”