Shh… don't tell anyone I'm poor. They all think I'm living frugal and green just like everyone these days. This is a blog about a senior citizen living a frugal life, on a fixed income, in a low income food desert, and passing along knowledge from lessons learned. Some she learned from her Grandma Mama many years ago and some learned only a few days ago.
Our local utility company asked the public service commission for a raise on costs of 9.54% on electricity and 4.96% on gas. They always get what they request. This means that if someone’s bill has been $100 they will now be paying $114.50. If someone’s bill has been $200 it will now be $229. Despite all the energy saving things I’ve done since I moved here my utility bill is still in the range of $150 a month. This means I can now expect to pay $21.75 more each month. That is a lot for a low income person who already struggles to pay the bills.
Our local utility company has offered customers who, for whatever reason, can’t have solar panels installed on their house an opportunity to rent solar panels from their new solar farm. This would include apartment or house renters, houses with too much shade, and other reasons for not being able to install the panels. Sounds like a good idea doesn’t it? Sounds especially good to someone facing higher utility costs with an already strained budget. The ability to have solar power even if you don’t own the panels. I don’t trust a utility company to give anyone a bargain. On the surface it appears to be a good idea but I’m not so sure. I needed to know more about this before giving up a deposit I can’t really afford and committing to a year long contract that this would actually save me money.
The offer is to rent solar panels from the utility’s solar farm. Each panel will produce between 18 and 38 kilowatt hours per month depending on the weather. There is a $40 sign up fee and each rented panel will cost $6.29 per month on a year contract. Excess wattage that is not used by the solar renter is used for the community but not given as credit on a future bill. I don’t believe that the “community” part means low income people. I believe it means it will be given to industries and businesses in our area.
I needed to do a little investigation into how this would benefit me if I sign up for the program. For my investigation I used the figure of what a typical house uses per month of 1000 Kwh. I used the average of maybe 20 Kwh produced per panel for easy math. 1000 divided by 20 is 50 panels needed. Fifty panels at $6.29 each is $314.5o That means if I am an average household I should rent 50 panels at a cost of $314.50 a month. That is a lot.
My actual Kwh average in the seven months I’ve lived here is 447 Kwh per month. (3129 divided by 7) According to my math I’d need 23 panels producing at 20 Kwh each per month. I read I’d be required to rent in groups of 250 watts (about 12 panels at 20 kwh) per month. I would need two sets to cover my average. So 24 panels at $6.29 each is $150.96 monthly rent. Last month my electric bill was $36.90 and this month it is $43.99. Renting the solar panels would be far more than I pay now. I do like the idea of green energy but not to benefit the pockets of the utility company. Going green energy is not for the low income person or family who could benefit most from it. Typical. In order to save money you must have money.
I became curious about the solar calculator that the information pamphlet said I could find on the LG&E website. I was curious if it would give me a different figure? That’s where I saw the questions section and did some reading. I read that other fees associated with using the rented solar panels would be added to the cost of renting the panels. Fuel adjustment charges and solar capacity charges are two of them but there are other fees that would be added to the amount renters would pay. These would be in addition to the existing extra fees already charged each month like the meter rentals and the cost adjustment fees. Our utility company charges rent for the meters as I believe all of them do. Here in Louisville, even if you have your utilities turned completely off and never use them, you are charged a rental fee for having the meters. Removing the meters is not allowed.
I copied this estimated quote from the LGE solar calculator for 24 panels (2 sets) I estimated I would need to cover my average monthly Kwh usage. The enrollment fee alone is far more than my current yearly electricity costs.
Solar Share Program calculator results
Initial, non-refundable enrollment feeShares (24) x $40 $960 Monthly capacity chargeShares (24) x 6.29 $150.96 Monthly solar creditShares (24) x rate (0.0402) x kWh (18-38) $17.37 – 36.66
Their calculator tells me I’d be paying an estimated $114 to $134 a month after the solar is deducted and before adding the extra fees. No way could I even consider paying $960 non-refundable enrollment fee. That’s a bit too rich for my budget. So now I know. Renting solar panels from a utility owned solar farm is NOT going to be a financial benefit for anyone but the utility company. It could be a possible charity deduction for the rich? Not sure about that. Keep this in mind if your local utility decides to build a solar energy farm near you. Do your research first. In my opinion this is another case of the rich get richer and the poor do without. In my personal opinion the utility company would benefit a great deal more if the green energy was used to help the low income person or family lower their monthly bills. I don’t know of a single low income person who would not jump at a chance to lower their utility bill if given the right opportunity and incentive.