Grayson Rural Electric Cooperative installs solar system, first in EKY to do so

By: Ivy Brashear

Customers of Grayson Rural Electric Cooperative Corporation (RECC) can now see something new, and perhaps surprising, when they drive up to the RECC’s headquarters in Grayson, Ky.: a newly installed solar electric system.

The 10.8 kW solar photovoltaic (PV) system, which Grayson RECC installed as a demonstration and educational project, stands in stark modern contrast to the historic former home to a prominent family, the Bagbys, that houses the Grayson RECC offices. But Grayson executives are keen to keep up with trends in electric generation for their customers’ sake.

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MACED’s Josh Bills talks about Grayson’s PV system at the grand opening in 2014.

“As things change and we grow, we have to embrace new technologies,” Grayson RECC CEO Carol Ann Fraley said at the solar electric system’s grand opening. “We think [solar] is one that our members are very interested in, and want to know more about. And we thought what better place [to locate the system] than right in sight of the parking lot.”

Grayson RECC worked with the Mountain Association for Community Economic Development (MACED) to take advantage of a one-time grant provided by MACED that provided some support to purchase and install the PV system. The grant money Grayson RECC used was earmarked for small-scale energy efficiency and renewable energy projects in eastern Kentucky.

The grant was not one that could be applied for; MACED had to nominate projects to receive funds. Projects had to meet several criteria to be nominated, including meaningful impact on the community and high visibility. Preference was given to valuable MACED partners such as Grayson RECC. They partner with MACED on the How$martKY program, an on-bill financing program that helps co-op customers pay for energy efficiency upgrades in their homes with savings on their electric bill.

For MACED’s Energy Sector Team, Grayson RECC was an obvious choice to receive grant funds. “Solar was something Grayson had already been thinking about,” MACED Energy Programs Manager Jason Coomes said.

In addition to providing grant money to Grayson RECC for their PV system, MACED provided many hours of energy technical assistance, which is something Grayson RECC executives have been very grateful to receive as they learn more about solar electric generation. MACED is constantly looking for more opportunities to work with new and existing partners through energy technical assistance. They are willing to help others – particularly other RECCs – better understand the solar electric system at Grayson, and how a similar one can be installed elsewhere.

The grant and technical assistance Grayson RECC received allowed the co-op to install one of the most elegant solar arrays MACED’s Energy Sector Team has ever seen.

Often, solar panels are placed apart from each other in a staggered way, but Jerry Bogie of Bogie Electric, LLC designed and installed Grayson’s solar system in one plane. He ordered black frames, which makes the entire array look like one complete surface with no space between solar panels.

“It’s really beautiful,” Coomes said. “Don’t be surprised if you start seeing a photo of this array in magazines, because it’s probably one of the most beautiful installs I’ve ever seen.”

The Grayson PV system is also unique in that much of it was manufactured in the United States, and a Kentucky electrical contractor – Bogie Electric, of Richmond, Ky. – installed it. Soniva, a Georgia company that is a leading manufacturer of high efficiency solar cells, made the panels. Soniva is one of the few American solar panel manufacturers that offers “Buy American” compliant solar modules, which are made with more than 80 percent American content.

“It’s just exciting to know that these panels were homegrown and home installed by a Kentucky electrical contractor,” MACED Energy Efficiency Enterprises Program Coordinator Josh Bills said.

The Grayson RECC solar electric system is expected to generate about 13,500 kWh of electricity a year, which will produce a savings of $1,200 to $1,500 a year for Grayson RECC. Grayson executives are excited about those potential savings, but they intend for the solar electric system to become an educational tool for their members and the larger community. The PV system is designed at a residential scale, which means the equipment used for the system is exactly what a homeowner could have installed at their own home.

Grayson executives want school groups to visit their headquarters and learn more about the PV system, and they welcome anyone from the community who is interested in learning more to stop by their offices for more information.

They have also made available an online monitoring tool that provides real-time information about the PV system. In addition to showing the amount of energy being generated, the tool taps into a weather monitoring station attached to the PV system. The weather monitoring helps Grayson better understand weather-related factors that contribute to solar electric generation. This technology, Bills said, allows Grayson RECC to hone in on what solar electricity generation really means to their own bottom line and what it can do for the community.