A reality based independent journal of observation & analysis, serving the Flathead Valley & Montana since 2006. © James Conner.

1 August 2015

Flathead Electric community solar’s gloomy economics

On 11 June, Flathead Memo published a preliminary analysis of FEC’s community solar project. Construction has begun, and FEC just released more information on the project. The August, 2015, issue of Light Reading (PDF), the cooperative’s monthly newsletter, in a question and answer format with project manager Ross Holter, reports that customers now can invest in the project:

It will consist of 356 solar panels, and each 285 watt panel is expected to generate approximately 360 kWh per year. Each panel will cost $900 and initially, FEC members will be limited to purchasing one panel for the 25-year life of the program.

Less than one kilowatt hour per panel per day, on average.

In a nutshell, how does community solar work? It’s really quite simple. We build a large solar array, thereby achieving some economies of scale. We then sell those panels to individual participants for the 25-year life of the panels. We track the monthly kilowatt output of the whole system and then credit each owner their allocated share against their monthly electric bill.

At what price per kWhr will that generation be credited? Flathead Electric’s residential rate structure (PDF) combines a $22.71 per month base charge with an ascending block rate structure:


In July, I used 517 kWhrs, which by my math will cost $54.20. My true cost per kWhr is $0.10483, but the per kWhr rate for the 0–600 kWhrs/mth block is $0.0609. If I had a share of the project, would I be credited at my true cost per kWhr, or at the 0–600 block’s rate? If FEC uses the block rate for the panel owner’s consumption, the biggest energy hogs will have the shortest payback period. In fact, under that scheme, only the hogs will have a simple payback period shorter than the life of the project:


FEC needs to release a lot more information on the Stillwater Community Solar project. Given what I know right now, and my level of energy use, I could not expect to break even were I to invest in the project. It doesn’t strike me as an economically viable alternative to net metering. And like net metering without a crossover switch, it would leave me in the dark if the grid went down.



31 July 2015

Flathead Lake still seven inches lower than normal

Flathead Lake is at 2892.21 today, six-tenths of a foot, or seven inches, below the 1965–2014 median for this date. In the drought year 2001, the lake was at 2891.66 at the end of July. Today’s outflow from Kerr Dam is 3,360 cubic feet per second, 440 cfs lower than the 3,800 cfs mandated in Article 56 of the dam’s license. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission granted the dam’s operator a small variance from Article 56. The license mandated minimum outflow drops to 3,200 cfs in a couple of days. I’ll try to have more on the situation on Monday.


What’s better? A new jail or putting fewer people in jail?

Flathead County’s jail is overcrowded, so the county commissioners want to convert the old Walmart building on Highway 2 east to a new jail. A wag on Facebook beat me to the punch with “Jade Helm comes to the Flathead.”

…read the rest

Updates on Hillary Clinton’s campaign

Today, bad reporting by the New York Times, and a hard hitting report by ABC’s Brian Ross from the 2008 campaign.

NY Times botched emails story. Last week the NYT reported that Clinton was under a criminal investigation for allegedly using her private email system to send in the clear classified information that should have been encrypted. That news story is coming apart faster than Humpty Dumpty at the end of his great fall.

…read the rest

News coverage of the Reynolds Creek Fire

Over at the Flathead Beacon, Kellyn Brown explains how the Beacon has covered the Reynolds Creek Fire, and forest fires in general. Reading between the lines, it’s clear that local business interests believe the Beacon and the news media in general have hyped the fire to the detriment of the local economy:

…read the rest