TRAVERSE CITY — The Cherryland Electric Cooperative unveiled a revised solar energy program that would roll back its original net metering plans and offers members new alternatives.

The new plan — developed between Cherryland Electric and supplier Wolverine Power Cooperative — gives cooperative members three options to generate solar energy: A community solar subscription, a "buy-all, sell-all" model or traditional net metering with higher returns.

The Wolverine Power Cooperative Board of directors will review a request Thursday to purchase 10 megawatts of solar energy distributed among its five cooperative members during the next three years or until it is gone, said Tony Anderson, general manager of Cherryland Electric Cooperative.

"This is a big step into solar energy, much bigger than we were talking about in March," said Anderson, who explained the three options to cooperative members Monday.

Under the community solar option, any Wolverine Power cooperative member could subscribe to a 1.2-megawatt capacity solar array — owned by Spartan Renewable Energy — located near its headquarters in Cadillac. A 335-watt solar panel would cost members $600, or monthly $10 installments for the next five years. They would receive 10 cents per kilowatt hour of solar energy generation, with rates equivalent to $1.80 per watt for a 15-year agreement, Anderson said.

"There’s going to be a lot of opportunity for people to get into community solar energy on a small scale," he said.

The "buy-all, sell-all" option would allow more large-scale solar energy producers to sell all their energy to Wolverine, and separately buy energy back from the utility.

"You can put one panel or 100 panels on your property, and you would sell it all to us for 10 cents per kilowatt hour," Anderson said.

Producers would be responsible for financing their own solar energy project, making them eligible for a solar federal tax credit unavailable to community solar participants. The agreement would last for a 20-year contract, but solar energy would be capped at 10 megawatts, said Zach Anderson, Wolverine's manager of power supply.

Some Cherryland members were concerned the proposed 10 megawatts wouldn't be enough to share between Wolverine's five cooperatives, which uses about 900 megawatts of energy combined.

"I think it's a fair deal, but I would like to propose a portion (of the 10 megawatts) be set aside for residential customers or small commercial customers as a substitute for net metering," said cooperative member Tom Gallery, who also owns Leelanau Solar.

Cherryland Electric's posed option for net metering would pay members 5.6 cents — as opposed to the originally proposed 3.1 cents — for every kilowatt hour of solar energy they produce, Tony Anderson said. That would offset their current residential rate of 10.98 cents per kilowatt hour.

"You get the best rate if you are a net zero energy user, because you are offsetting the 10.98 cents if you never put power back on the grid," Zach Anderson said. "If you’re sending net generation back to the grid, we’re going to treat it just like a natural gas plant, a coal plant or the market."

The net metering would be done on a monthly basis, which some members worried would punish solar production in Northern Michigan's seasonal climate.

"Up here, where we have powerfully different seasons, this has been inherently the most troublesome part of this model," said cooperative member Joe DeFors. "In the summer months I will likely overproduce 30 to 40 percent and in the winter months I'll underproduce 30 to 40 percent. With the new instantaneous metering, I'm punished."

DeFors proposed an annual alternative.

"This kind of model could work, and we wouldn’t oppose it, if we would talk about annualized formulas, because then we truly are treated as a net zero facility," he said.

The Wolverine Power Cooperative board of directors will review the proposed plan Thursday in hopes of reaching a final agreement by the end of August. The Cherryland Electric board of directors is slated to make a final decision on the program at its meeting on Sept. 19.

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