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Sun shining on new HOT Electric co-op venture in McGregor

Sun shining on new HOT Electric co-op venture in McGregor

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A modest, 1-megawatt solar farm in McGregor will not cause walls to tremble like the SpaceX rocket-testing facility next door. But a Central Texas that recalls the power outages and ERCOT-related turmoil that accompanied February’s big freeze may welcome it as a security blanket.

Temperatures now model an Easy-Bake Oven, and the Electric Reliability Council of Texas has already recommended energy conservation once since the heat arrived. What better time for the Heart of Texas Electric Cooperative to introduce its 2,500-panel farm on South Johnson Drive capable of energizing 150 homes at peak capacity.

The solar farm is the cooperative’s first, but perhaps not its last, general manager Brandon Young said during a ribbon-cutting ceremony Tuesday.

“Every little bit helps,” Young said.

Renewable energy can get more traditional energy suppliers over the hump during peak usage, he said.

HOT Electric Cooperative serves rural customers from Lake Whitney to Milam County, including many in Bell, Bosque, Coryell, Falls, Hamilton and McLennan counties. It employs about 60 between its offices and training center in McGregor and a facility in Rosebud. The co-op provides electricity to 17,000 members and 23,500 meters, member services manager Ron Poston said.

An elected board sets policy and hires a general manager to run things.

HOT Electric Cooperative receives 100% of its power from Brazos Electric Power Cooperative, Texas’ largest electric co-op, serving 66 counties.

Lone Star Solar built the solar plant in McGregor over seven to eight months, and it became operational about three months ago. Lone Star Solar will operate and maintain the farm, though HOT Electric Cooperative still owns the property, officials with each company said. The cooperative agreed to buy power for 20 years at market rate.

Walter Cuculic, Lone Star Solar’s managing partner, said the company simultaneously assembled solar farms in McGregor, Comanche, Bartlett, Gainesville and Lubbock, “all finishing about at the same time.”

Young said the project involved eight cooperatives in Texas vying for 100 megawatts of capacity. Heart of Texas Electric bought one share, but all the cooperatives benefited from taking a group approach, Young said.

Heart of Texas Electric Cooperative has become bullish on renewable energy, particularly solar, and will begin offering “rooftop installation to members and non-members,” project specialist Jake Schmidt said.

Schmidt said the cooperative will rely on local contractors to install the systems. He said completing installation should take 30 days from when negotiations begin, possibly longer depending upon permitting.

Cuculic said residential solar systems are becoming more affordable and practical as prices continue to fall for the panels themselves, and financing options may include zero money down. He said federal tax credits now stand at 26%, meaning a $100,000 investment would fetch a $26,000 credit.

“The balanced use of renewables has its place, but you can’t act rashly. You can’t eliminate thermal generation,” said Young, HOT Electric’s general manager.

He said the fiasco in February provided proof that both the economics and engineering of Texas’ power grid need attention.

“Problems related to ERCOT brought the matter to the forefront, but the economics should have been looked at more closely,” Young said, referencing efforts to ensure February’s crisis is not repeated. “Bills of $9,000 per kilowatt hour, beyond the grid cap, put some users billions of dollars in debt. By no means has a resolution to current concerns been achieved.”

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