DeFUNIAK SPRINGS — Choctawhatchee Electric Cooperative (CHELCO) flipped the switch Tuesday on its subscriber-supported solar energy production project.
The system, installed at CHELCO’s operations center in DeFuniak Springs, comprises more than 500 solar panels installed on the center’s roof. Called Cooperative Solar, the project is the first solar power system in Northwest Florida and South Alabama to be installed by a member-owned electric power cooperative.
The array will be in service a minimum of 25 years, producing an estimated 231,000 kilowatt-hours per year. That is roughly equal to powering 185 homes, according to a news release from the nonprofit cooperative, which serves 50,000 accounts in Walton, Okaloosa, Holmes and Santa Rosa counties.
The cost of the system is being underwritten by CHELCO customers who wanted to have the option of purchasing environmentally friendly and renewable solar-generated electricity, CHELCO spokeswoman Rumi Nielson-Green said.
According to the news release, 71 customers purchased a total of 92 subscriptions in support of the project. They signed up for either one-year or five-year terms, at a cost of $27.50 monthly for a one-year or $26 monthly for a five years.
Beginning with their May bills, solar subscribers will receive credits for the solar energy produced by CHELCO’s system. But that will not mean they will see lower bills. According to the CHELCO news release, solar subscribers can expect to see their bills increase by an average of $10 to $11 each month as subscription charges are balanced against energy production credits.
But according to Nielson-Green, that increase is far less than subscribers would pay for installing and maintaining solar power arrays at their homes. Overall, according to the cooperative’s data, installation costs for the community array are estimated at $1.55 per watt compared to $2.25 per watt for a home rooftop array.
In fact, CHELCO has a waiting list for solar subscriptions, the news release said.
“We’re very proud of it,” Nielson-Green said of the new solar power system. “It aligns very nicely with the cooperative business model.”