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Home > Aim Green® > Environment

Customer Generation FAQs

   

We get a lot of questions from customers about setting up their own wind turbine or solar panel and then, maybe, selling any excess power to us. They seem to fall into certain areas, such as: Does it make sense to do it in my location? What are the considerations? Money.

Instead of going through each question individually, which could take a lot of space and be repetitive, we’ve divided them up into certain areas and will try to answer them altogether.

Assessing if it makes sense

Money questions

I've decided to install something. Now what?

Operating & maintaining your system

Thinking off-grid?



   

Assessing if it makes sense

1. How do I figure out what size wind turbine or solar panels I need for my home’s electrical needs?

2. I just want to run my furnace, heat pump or (A\C). How much electricity will I need to do this; and what size wind turbine or solar panel will this take?

3. How is it determined if a 10 KW wind turbine is enough electricity to run my house?

4. How many kilowatts does it take to run my furnace and heat pump?

5. How much electricity does my home use?

6. What height do wind turbines run the most efficient?

7. Should I have my house tested for the wind speed?

8. What testing will be needed to decide how high my wind turbine will be?

9. What is the proper placement for the best viability for a wind turbine?

10. Wind system installers and small wind systems suppliers recommend that on-site wind speed data and careful measurements are taken over a period of time prior to installation. Who does this measurement?

First of all, the Nebraska Energy Office has a great deal of information on this subject at its website.

Establishing your home’s requirements can take a lot of measurement with instruments, if you like, or you can approximate it. Unless you’re considering disconnecting from the electrical grid altogether (see Thinking Off-Grid?), averages will work for you and your electrical bill can help.

Gather at least one year’s worth of bills and add up the numbers in the Kilowatt-hours used boxes. Divide that sum by the number of hours in a year and you’ll have your average hourly usage. Over the past 5 full years, the average amount for OPPD residential customers has been about 1.33 kilowatts.

Wind turbines and solar panels are the two most common forms of renewable energy that are considered in this area. Their capacity to produce electricity will be measured in kilowatts, with their capacity factor figured in.

A shortcut to figuring payback periods can be found on the Internet at a number of sites not related to OPPD, such as: Choose Renewables

Interested more in depth?

How much of your bill you want to offset will determine how big of a wind turbine or solar panel array you buy. Generally speaking, the more capacity you buy, the more expensive your system. There are wind maps and solar maps on the Internet, including at the U.S. Department of Energy’s site, that will give a general overview of the availability of these “fuels” in our area. These will be very high level views.

OPPD’s solar experience at our Elkhorn Center has been about a 14 percent capacity factor. Our wind experience at Valley has been about a 23 percent capacity factor. There can be significant differences in wind locations, however.

Generally speaking, wind needs a nice, clear space with little to disrupt the flow to the turbines. That includes trees and buildings. Generally speaking, the higher the turbine is mounted, the better the wind flow. Generally speaking, the taller the tower, the more expensive it is.

You may want to invest in measurements at your site if you want a better idea of what kind of wind is available to you, at different heights. We are not in the position to refer customers to a particular measurement company. You may have the best luck checking with the American Wind Energy Association. Many of its members are in the business of selling these services.

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Money questions

1. How do I figure out the pay back on wind and solar?

2. How much money will OPPD pay me for the power I produce from wind or solar?

3. How will my wind turbines’ or solar panels’ power be tracked? How will tracking be handled for production, house usage and what OPPD owes me? Will my net meter allow me to track OPPD’s electricity and my electricity on daily, weekly, or monthly bases?

4. How long does it take for a turbine or solar panel to pay back for the cost of purchasing?

5. Will my OPPD bill reflect my renewable consumption with my OPPD consumption, and the pay back credit I will be receiving?

6. What is the cost per KW or how do I figure out the cost per KW for using a wind turbine and solar panel?

7. Will I need special insurance for the turbine, solar and my house hold appliances?

8. Is there information on the performance and safety standards for turbines?

When you get ready to buy a renewable energy system, you contact OPPD. We will work with you to make certain the equipment you intend to purchase will meet OPPD’s requirements.

It is vital to make certain you have checked out everything (the equipment, codes and other requirements in your area, etc.) before you start spending money.

After all of those questions have been answered, and you are ready to install, we will put in a special meter that will measure the amount of electricity we sell you and the amount of electricity you sell us. Those amounts are available on our rates pages and will be figured each month with your monthly bill.

Payback for your electric operation, like many businesses, is dependent on a lot of things and includes some assumptions.

First, calculate out how much electricity you expect to generate. That would be the capacity of your equipment multiplied times its expected capacity factor.

Multiply that number times the cost of electricity we charge you (since you’re generating this yourself, we won’t be charging you for it). If you were a business, you’d count that as your income.

Your expenses include the cost of the equipment and what accountants call the “opportunity cost.” Many people forget the opportunity cost.

If you borrow money to buy and install your equipment, the cost of your equipment will be what the bank is charging you for your loan. If you have enough money to pay cash for your equipment, your “opportunity cost” is the amount of money that cash could have generated for you if you had invested it elsewhere, say in a tax-free government bond.

Other assumptions you may have to make is your anticipation of inflation and future rate hikes. The higher our rates, the faster your payoff.

It would probably be a good idea to check with your insurance agent on what effect installing any equipment on your property may do to your rates.

As far as performance and safety standards go, the American Wind Energy Association and the Department of Energy may be your best bets for these. Some consumer testing organizations may also be testing new models as they come out for their performance and durability.

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I've decided to install something. Now what?

1. What city permits will I need to install a wind turbine or solar panels?

2. Where can I locate the governmental and neighborhood permits and requirements that will impact my eligibility to putting in a wind turbine?

3. Is there a web site to check for city and county codes in regards to solar and wind generation?

It would be nice to have one central location to check for this information. If you find that site, please let us know. Failing that, OPPD serves customers in parts of 13 counties. Numerous towns and cities within those counties have their own zoning and/or building requirements, not to mention neighborhood or homeowner association covenants.

Finding out regulations affecting your area will require you checking city, county, and, perhaps, neighborhood authorities.

Once you have gone through all the necessary research into the generator products, OPPD's Distributed Generation manual, codes, covenants and more, and are ready to submit a completed Distributed Generation application, it's time to contact OPPD. Call us at 402-552-5837. Call this number, too, if you have technical questions. Leave your name and number. An OPPD representative will return your call and work with you on the next steps in your installation process.

OPPD requirements for generation equipment that operates electrically isolated from the OPPD system (open transition) can be found in the OPPD General Wiring and Metering Specifications Manual. OPPD requires notification, consultation, and inspection for all standby generator installations. See our Meter Manual.

Equipment that operates or is capable of operation while electrically connected to or parallel to the OPPD system must meet OPPD requirements including an OPPD application and review process and execution of written operating agreements. OPPD will often require the generator facility to install an exterior service disconnect switch, protective relaying, and other specialized equipment.

The specific technical requirements for generation equipment capable of parallel or 'closed transition' operation can be found in the OPPD Distributed Generation Manual. Please see OPPD's Distributed Generation Manual and Energy Purchase Rates

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Operating & maintaining your system

1. What is the life expectancy for a turbine, and what parts will need to be replaced?

2. Is there a charge for repairing my wind turbine or solar panels?

3. Will OPPD maintain my wind turbine or solar panels?

4. Will OPPD help me maintain the renewable generation?

5. Do wind turbines need to calibrate annually?

6. How do I protect my turbine from a lightning strike, and if lightning strikes, will it affect my house hold appliances?

Like many products, durability and efficiency of wind turbines and solar panels will vary. OPPD does not sell or maintain small systems, other than our demonstration solar project and our wind turbine at Valley. The rest of our renewable resources are operated by others.

Your equipment vendor will have information on the life expectancy of your equipment. Admittedly, they are at a different level, but we know that Nebraska’s first utility-sized wind turbines, the 750 kilowatt turbines near Springview, lasted about ten years before it became too expensive to repair them. There are significant maintenance costs for utility-sized turbines, which is why each wind farm has a certain number of employees dedicated to repair and maintenance.

Nebraska weather can be brutal, dealing out thunderstorms, ice storms, hail storms and high winds. As you look at equipment, make certain your wind turbine and/or solar panels can withstand what Mother Nature will dish out.

Will your wind turbine draw lightning? No more so, perhaps, than any other object you put on a pole and place 30 or more feet in the air. Protecting them from lightning without affecting their performance may be a challenge. If lighting strikes your wind turbines, it may damage your equipment. After all, you have a wire leading directly from the turbine to your home electrical system and lightning packs quite a punch. Lightning is also interesting in that it may hit nearby and cause no damage at all to your equipment.

There’s a comment above about insurance that might be worth reading here.

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Thinking off-grid?

1. What are the advantages and disadvantages to being connected to OPPD’s grid?

2. What are the pros and cons of using a standalone system with OPPD supplemental power source versus net metering?

3. Will I need battery storage for a wind turbine or solar panel system to store excess power?

4. What type and quantity of batteries should be used to store my surplus electricity and how much will they cost?

5. Is there any safety risk with using storage batteries for my wind turbine or solar panels

Some of you may want to go all the way and disconnect from the grid altogether. We’ll miss you as a customer, but think you’ll appreciate us more, once you’re gone. OPPD provides a reliable connection of quality electricity at reasonable rates. The only disadvantage we can see for the customer to be connected to us is you have to pay us for the service.

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OPPD's Surge Guard Plus can help prevent damage to your electronic equipment. Even small surges can create minor damage that may go unnoticed but still shorten the life of your valuable equipment.

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