HARRISONBURG — Over the past eight years, the Harrisonburg Electric Commission has added 100 solar energy-producing homes and businesses to its grid.
The first five customers to add solar panels did so in 2010, said HEC General Manager Brian O’Dell. Since then, 95 more have done so, with the 100th customer installing the panels and hooking up to the city-owned utility’s grid on Feb. 16.
Fifteen commercial properties and 85 homes contribute power to the HEC, he said, and there’s another three or four projects in the works.
“This area ... is very conservative environmentally and there seems to be a lot of interest in the Shenandoah Valley for this sort of installation,” O’Dell said. “From my knowledge, there are not a lot of other municipalities across Virginia that would have this many installations, particularly cities this size.”
Community members can buy and install their own solar panels, O’Dell said, and then any excess energy they produce is added to the city’s electrical grid. HEC deducts that contributed electricity from the customer’s bill.
O’Dell estimates that the 100 solar-powered structures generate 1.2 million kilowatt hours annually. An average home uses about 12,000 kilowatt hours a year, he said.
That solar energy reduces about 847 tons of carbon dioxide emissions a year, O’Dell said.
This net metering agreement with customers helps “promote an increase in the renewable energy here in the Valley,” he said, and reduces emissions that would otherwise be generated by fossil fuels.
“We don’t see direct benefits to the installation of solar panels,” O’Dell said, “but we feel that we should be able to provide that opportunity to our customers to generate their own power.”
Deb Fitzgerald, a Harrisonburg resident and chairwoman of the city School Board, had solar panels installed on her home this fall and has been online since December.
Though January and February haven’t been the best solar generating months, Fitzgerald said, she’s optimistic that sunny spring and summer months will yield more solar energy production.
She wants the panels to generate as much energy as her home uses.
The systems have apps that people can run on their phone and laptops that measure how much energy their panels produce, she said, something that she monitors closely.
“It makes me feel good,” Fitzgerald said. “It’s fascinating to watch on a day-by-day basis how much the system produces.”
East Mennonite University also boasts one of the largest solar power systems in Virginia.
In 2010, EMU installed a 104-kilowatt solar energy system on the roof of Hartzler Library. At the time of installation, the 328 panels at Hartzler made up the largest solar energy system in the state.
Contact Ellie Potter at 574-6286