Imagine a $4,800 energy bill.
That’s what one Kentucky nonprofit leader woke up to in February 2023.
While many Kentuckians are looking for permanent relief from high energy bills, those that are in older homes or buildings are especially hurting. Cory Claxon and his team of volunteers at the Olive Hill Center for Arts & Heritage, a nonprofit serving Carter County, are housed on a 1929 historic school campus. Their bills average $2,200 each month in the summer and anywhere from $2,200 up to nearly $5,000 in the winter, as was the case this past February.
They began working with the Mountain Association’s team of energy experts to find savings, but even with efficiency upgrades like lighting changes and insulation, their bills were still going to be in the thousands of dollars each month due to the size and age of their facilities. Solar was the only answer.
However, we soon realized it would not be financially viable for them to add solar unless their community had a net metering policy in place.
“The majority of customers throughout Kentucky are served by utilities that have this type of policy in place that makes solar more affordable because you are credited for the extra electricity your system adds back to the grid after you use what you need,” Josh Bills, Senior Energy Analyst with the Mountain Association, said. “However, Olive Hill, which is served by its own municipal utility, had not yet adopted a policy, leaving its approximately 1,200 customers without a financially viable way of adding solar and saving on their bills.”
The Olive Hill Center for Arts & Heritage mission is to provide equitable and accessible arts and cultural experiences for their community. With more than 25% of their county in poverty, these opportunities, like arts workshops, exhibits and performances, would not be possible for many families without the center. Their campus also houses one of two library branches, a historical museum, an antique and craft store, and a proposed youth center operated by The Galaxy Project.
Being the steward of such essential services, the Center wasn’t going to let these savings go unrealized. After identifying this issue, over the course of 2023, Cory and Josh worked with the city council to pass a renewable energy net metering policy for customers of their municipal utility. In November 2023, the city council finalized the policy, making more energy independence possible.
“With Olive Hill having one of the highest rates in the entire state of Kentucky due to their contract with Kentucky Power, their residents desperately needed other options as rates continue to rise,” Josh said. “The city council did right by their residents, businesses and nonprofits by getting this policy in place.”
Solar would offset 62 percent of the Center’s energy usage, saving them more than $7,000 per year even with a 4% interest loan from the Mountain Association – allowing them to put so much more toward their actual mission. Once solar panels are paid off, which typically averages between 6-12 years, electricity is free for the rest of the life of the panels, which often have guaranteed lives of at least 25 years.
“That extra income and self-sufficiency would be game changing for our small nonprofit’s operating budget,” Cory said.
They’ve raised over $62,000 for their project and roof repairs with support from General Motors, Appalachian Solar Finance Fund, and other partners like Kentucky Office of Energy Policy and the Mountain Association. However, they still need $57,000 for roof repairs prior to proceeding with the solar installation.
If you’re able to donate, please consider making a gift: ohcah.org
More about net metering:
The concept of net metering began decades ago as a way to credit people with small-scale solar or other renewable energy systems for adding electricity to the grid. Without net metering, any solar they produced that exceeded their own consumption would be essentially gifted to the utility company. With net metering that excess is credited to offset their use at night, for example.
Net metering policies are determined by each state and each specific utility. Net metering also helps the whole community lower their bills, in time, as with solar adding to the grid, less fossil fuels have to be purchased which can come with costly fuel adjustment charges passed on directly to the customer.
Kentucky Net Metering Policy Examples
For customers of Kentucky Power Company with net-metered solar, they get the one-to-one retail rate (the rate we are all charged on our bills) for any electricity they produce and use within a single billing period. Then, if they produce excess of what their household or facility uses in that monthly time period, they are credited for that energy at 80 percent of the current retail rate to offset future bills.
For customers of the municipal utility in Olive Hill, any excess kilowatt hour (kWh) energy credits generated are available in any future month where energy used is greater than energy production. Since the credit is defined as kWh of energy (instead of 80 percent of retail rate per kWh), it offsets future use at retail rate, so every kWh of solar energy generated offsets a kWh of energy otherwise bought from the municipal utility.