FORT MILL TOWNSHIP — Do you know where your electricity has been, or how far it traveled to get here?
If you’re a York Electric Cooperative customer, at least a fraction of the power used to charge your phone or light your home came from 92,960,000 miles away – the distance to Earth from the Sun. As part of its “green” energy program, York Electric installed four solar panels at its Fort Mill office on U.S. 21.
The photovoltaic system, clearly visible from the road, has a capacity for eight kilowatts. It came online this week. Once collected, the power goes out onto YEC’s grid and gets distributed to all of its customers.
Brent Clinton, a key accounts executive for YEC and solar power expert, said the utility is committed to diversifying its energy portfolio.
“We have nuclear, we still have coal, we have a little bit of hydro,” he said.
“Obviously there’s a push to phase out coal. This gives us another another option – a smaller option, but any renewable energy available, we want to research that and make it part of the mix so all your eggs aren’t in one basket, so to speak.”
The location of the panels along a busy Fort Mill road is intended to make a statement.
“We need something visible here to say ‘here’s some green power we’re producing,’ ” Clinton said.
Utility Spokesman Marc Howie said the preferred renewable source of energy is methane gas generated from food decomposing in landfills, but that’s not an option in York County. The landfill here is for non-organic material, such as construction debris and discarded furniture, he said. Wind is also good, he said, but in dryer climates like in Western states.
“We don’t have a lot of wind because of the humidity,” Howie said.
But we don’t lack for sunlight, making solar a good bet both reducing their dependance on non-renewable fuels and lowering utility bills.
Clinton and Howie explained that depending on the commitment a home or business owner wants to make, the initial investment can run into the tens of thousands of dollars. The equipment won’t pay for itself overnight – or even 1,001 nights – but it will result in lower electricity bills rather quickly if the weather cooperates.
On a sunny day, the panels collect solar rays, which are converted to energy that’s stored in batteries.
In essence, the batteries hold the electricity for a rainy day. York Electric installs a “bi-directional” meter on the system that sends the solar power into the user’s system as needed.
“Anything excess comes back out onto the grid and they credited for that,” thus lowering a customer’s bill, Clinton said.
“On a day like today, with proper battery backup you probably wouldn’t use any (billable) electricity at all,” Clinton said last week, while showing off the equipment on a bright day when the temperature climbed to the mid-70s.
On the utility’s end, a diverse energy portfolio helps keep down costs, Howie said.
It’s not YEC’s first rodeo with solar power. The cooperative installed panels at Springfield Middle School that are used both to produce energy and teach students about the technology. York Electric is eager to work with customers who want to explore installing panels on their property.
“Any of our members who are interested in it should just give us a call before they install,” Clinton said. “That way we can be involved in the process and make sure they get the bi-directional meter out there (and) we might be able to make some suggestions.”
Michael Harrison • 803-547-2353