The President’s Analyst

I watched an old movie the other night. Re-watched it, actually. Gee, you’re getting old when you can remember a movie from 1967.

The story revolves around a psychiatrist who is chosen to be the president’s personal shrink. Now, why on earth would Americans elect a president who needs a shrink? Come to think of it, we’ve probably elected a bunch of them who could use a shrink! Or maybe we need an analyst for electing them.

Anyway, the shrink knows all of the prez’s secrets, so every intelligence agency around the world wants to kidnap him. That is, except the American intelligence agency, which wants to kill him. Oh my. In the end, though, it is not the spies that get him. He is captured by the most ruthless and dangerous organization on the planet: TPC, or The Phone Company. This was in 1967, before Google was around.

Nowadays, the phone company, is much diminished. The stock symbol is just “T”. Today, the more hated company may be The Power Company. Boy, I know when Florida Power and Light locally cast off the old Gulf Power name, something went wrong and everybody got the most insane power bills, making the new TPC much reviled. Things have have settled down with them, but around the country there are some real doozies, like MY power co-op.

John and I sometimes have the discussion of whether or not you can justify the cost of solar at home vs. just paying the monthly bill. The answer depends on a lot of factors and often the value of the solar goes beyond the cost per kilowatt-hour (KWH). See, there’s also the security of keeping the lights on when TPC can’t. The big thing is to do it right.

After the big flap with FPL this winter, I see solar panels sprouting up everywhere in the FPL service area. That billing glitch (I think that was the problem) was a bonanza for solar companies. But the solar companies can be scoundrels, too. I have seen them put panels on roofs that can’t get more than 2 hours of sun per day, owing to trees. I have even seen them place panels on the north side of the house!

The biggest solar scoundrels may be the ones who install the wrong kind of systems where TPC is just plain evil, like my co-op.

I will show you what I mean. The published fee structure is that you pay $50 for an application, which they may or may not accept. If they do they will be slow about it. You can’t have more that 25kw, which is not much of a problem. 8kw seems to be pretty normal around here. They will charge you $2.39 per name plate kilowatt of capacity. Every month. You almost never get that much power out, but there it is. You do not settle up on the net difference in what you make and what you use. For every KWH that goes out, you get avoided cost of 3.9 cents. They do not include transmission costs, just generation cost. You pay around 13 cents for every KWH you use. Oh, and you have to maintain an insurance policy in case your power system messes up their power system, like that could actually happen. And if their power system messes up your power system you cannot sue them. Got that?

So let’s do the math. Typical 8kw system X $2.39 = 19.12…you owe them just because you have solar panels. That’s in addition to the $45 base fee, (FPL’s base is much lower) so let’s just round up and call it 65 bucks you owe them before you use or make any watts. In these parts, with sunny days, you can, in theory, make 5 hours of standard solar, or 40 KWH per day, or 1200 KWH for the month. 1200 X 3.9 cents will get you $47 worth of electricity if you never use a single watt. So 65-47 and you still owe TPC 18 bucks. Well, remember, without solar, you’d have started out owing 45. Also remember, you don’t get sunny every day. I have a bunch more than 8kw (nameplate rating) and I got 1180 KWH netted from my system last month when we had a week above 100 degrees.

On the other hand, if you are using those kilowatts, not paying TPC 13 cents, the deal gets a little better. Assume the 3kw a/c is running with 500 watts of miscellaneous loads, or 3.5KW x5 hours, and you get to not buy 17.5 KW. In 30 days that’s not buying 525 KWH. Times 13 cents and you are not paying for $68 worth of kilowatts. That leaves 625 KWH that you sold to TPC for $26. So, together, that is $94 less paid for electricity while paying an extra $19 for the solar connection fee, or a net reduction of $75.

We are talking, in our example, of pretty much what my neighbor EJ has. The monthly payments he makes for his system are $120, so he is in the hole. His system does not have battery, either, so when the hurricane comes, and they always do, he will be in the dark for a few weeks. EJ was sold the wrong system and he is not happy about it. Changing the usage , using more power during the day, will help and he may be able to break even. We’ll see how it does over time.

I have not been able to get EJ to sit down with me and go over his bill, but he claims they are charging him MORE than the $19 published solar fee and giving only A PENNY for the power he sells them. If so, that is really a bad deal and he is legally unable to sue to change that. I don’t know that is a fact, but he seems to think so! I told you TPC is evil!

If he had a hybrid system, depending on how much he uses, he might have been able to make enough to zero out his consumption from TPC and he would not have had to pay the 19 dollar solar fee. He’d still have to pay the $45 base to keep TPC as his backup supply.

My hybrid system made 1180 of the 1280 KWH I used last month. I expect to get a bill for about $58 from TPC. It would be $211 without solar. Because I put my system together myself and paid as I went, there are no monthly costs, beyond a little distilled water for the battery and a little diesel to exercise the backup generator. Overall cost of the system? I have no idea. I don’t keep records so I can have plausible deniability with the wife. Besides, I’ve had a lot of fun doing all this stuff.


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