New rates for putting solar power on grid expected to ignite industry

The nation’s regulatory agency has established rates for power hookups by private solar generators.

The rates range from 11.6 colons a kilowatt hour for the Empresa de Servicios Públicos de Heredia S.A. to 29.74 colons a kilowatt hour for the Cooperativa de Electrificación Rural Los Santos. The rate for the Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad is 28.26 per kilowatt hour, and the rate for its subsidiary, the Compañía Nacional de Fuerza y Luz, is 17.99 colons per kilowatt hour. The rate for the Junta de Administración de Servicios Eléctricos de Cartago is 14.64 per kilowatt hour.

What this means is that when a homeowner or business that generates solar power puts a kilowatt of energy into the utility’s electrical web, the meter reading will be reduced that amount. Jon Harrington of Costa Rica Solar S.A. in Alajuela described the process as net metering.

So a customer of  the Compañía Nacional de Fuerza y Luz would be paying 17.99 colons for putting a kilowatt on the power grid instead of what Harrington estimated the same amount of power would cost if the electrical user just purchased it, 110.16 colons. The savings would be slightly higher if the solar energy was generated by a commercial user.

Harrington noted that the solar program was supposed to start in October, but that the negotiations over the rates caused a delay.

Other solar installers said that the market was frozen until the Autoridad Reguladora de Servicios Públicos set the rates. Paul Furlong of CR Solar said that installers were staying in business by selling hot water heaters.

The Autoridad announced the rates in a meeting Thursday that Harrington attended. He said the rates were the result of negotiation between the Asociación Costarricense de Energía Solar, the installer association, with the utilities. The decision is expected to generate a boon in the solar market.

“Now that solar installations have dropped in price, electricity from rooftop solar can cost less than power from the grid,” said Harrington, who noted that financing was available. “Installing solar with little or no money down opens the possibility up to many new consumers.”

He said the industry employed 1,600 persons before the freeze a year ago. There was a pilot project that connected a limited number of solar homes to the power grid, and installers and even the utility companies learned from that.

By expanding these reliable clean energy sources, even in drought years, Costa Rica will be able to boast running the grid on totally renewable energy, Harrington said.

Electrical utilities understandably are suspicious of solar and wind power hookups because they see a day that with improved technology many will not need the power grid.

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