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Preliminary statistics compiled by the Louisiana Public Service Commission on utility customers generating their own electricity provide a glimpse into the steady growth of solar power in our state. The commission staff’s draft numbers on “net-metering” installations show a total of 1,350 Louisiana homes, businesses and institutions with solar, wind or other forms of “distributed” generation. That term distinguishes on-site generation from the centralized power plants of the utility industry.
A “net meter” spins in reverse when the generator on site creates more electricity than the site requires, creating a credit for the owner with the local utility.
This is the first time the LPSC has attempted to gather cumulative net-metering data, so it is challenging to put these numbers into context. And the report excludes solar and wind systems installed on municipal utility systems like Minden, Natchitoches and Ruston – systems not regulated by the LPSC.
But consider that the LPSC adopted its net-metering rule just five years ago, after similar action by the Louisiana Legislature. It’s a safe bet that the vast majority of these 1,350 self-generators came into being after net-metering gave them the means to get credit for their on-site power.
The data show virtually all of Louisiana’s net-metering installations – 1,343 of the total 1,350 — use solar power. The remainder is split between wind power at six sites and biomass with one location.
Entergy Louisiana has the largest number of net-metering installations with 354, followed by SWEPCO with 344 sites, CLECO with 227 and Entergy Gulf States with 186 locations. Louisiana’s 10 rural electric co-operatives have fewer customers than the investor-owned utilities and smaller numbers of solar users. Some examples: South Louisiana Electric Co-op in Houma has three solar users; Pointe Coupee Co-op in New Roads and Jeff Davis in Jennings have five each; and Concordia Electric in Jonesville has six. The 1,350 net-metering customers represent a total electric-generation capacity of 8,154 kilowatts, or slightly more than 8 megawatts. In contrast, the 14 electric companies regulated by the LPSC — the investor-owned utilities like Entergy and SWEPCO and the co-ops – have a total peak load of 14,067 megawatts. That means solar represents .06 percent of the overall electric demand in Louisiana. At this point it is a small but important step toward a non-polluting, home-grown energy future.
Solar is growing nationwide as in Louisiana, but state government has extra incentives to make it more popular. The Louisiana Solar Energy Society says Louisiana offers the most generous tax credits in the country for solar and wind systems. For solar, the state provides a 50-percent tax credit up to $12,500 for the purchase of systems installed on residential property. Combined with the 30-percent federal tax credit, which has no maximum cap, homeowners can receive up to 80 percent in total tax credits for the cost of their system.
The Louisiana Department of Revenue says 298 individuals took advantage of the wind and solar credit in 2008. By tax year 2009, that number had increased to 799. The total amount claimed over the same period rose from $1,843,969 to $8,710,353.
Louisiana legislators have also passed a law preventing persons or entities such as homeowner associations from unreasonably restricting the right of a property owner to install or use a solar collector.
Louisiana’s “Home Energy Loan Program,” known as HELP, allows homeowners to obtain a five-year loan to improve the energy efficiency of their home or add renewable power, according to the Database of State Incentives for Renewables and Energy Efficiency. Under the program, the Louisiana Department of Natural Resources works with applicants and participating lenders to offer low-interest financing for energy-efficient home improvements. DNR’s maximum participation in the loan is $6,000. The lenders determine the amount loaned and the interest rate charged.
Most of Louisiana gets more than five kilowatt-hours of sunlight per square meter on a daily basis. That isn’t as powerful as the sunlight in the American Southwest, but it is considered more than enough to justify a photovoltaic solar system. What is the sun replacing at these net-metering installations? Louisiana’s centralized electric supply is dominated by natural-gas power plants, which produce nearly half the state’s electric power. Coal-fired plants produce another quarter of the state’s energy supply and two nuclear plants provide an additional fifth. Per-capita electricity use is high due to Louisiana’s hot, humid summers. Residential use of air conditioners is high, and many homes heat with electricity in winter.
Solar power is not for everyone. Home units can cost $25,000 before state and federal tax credits. Consult a solar company to find out if the sun can work for you. You can also contact the Louisiana Department of Natural Resources or the City of Shreveport Energy Efficiency Program office.