Pratt city commissioners and staff discussed policies at their meeting Monday that would regulate customers who want to install their own electric generators, connect to the municipal electric grid and sell to the city any power they produce beyond what they need.
There are three wind generation systems currently connected to the grid, at Pratt Community College, Stanion Wholesale Electric and Walmart. They all produce power only for their own use, which is what Electric Utilities Director Kelly Hemphill says is the intent of customer-owned generators.
It has been about three years since a customer even approached the city about installing an alternative energy source, he said, but he does get calls from vendors wanting to know what the city's policies and ordinances are so they can market their product in Pratt.
A set of documents prepared by Hemphill, electric department employee Kenny Kreutzer and City Manager Dave Howard in cooperation with a wind energy consultant is taking a proactive stance.
"It's due diligence and fulfills what we told state legislators we would do," Howard said, meaning that municipalities and the Kansas Municipal Utilities organization would regulate themselves, without the need for new laws. "Pratt is taking the lead — we expect this to become the model (for other municipal electric generators)."
The documents, which will be presented at the next meeting in the form of an ordinance, establish standards for eligible customers, limit the size of the renewable power generator, explain how billing will be handled and limit the amount of power that can be pushed into the city's grid.
Although most of the inquiries about customer-owned generators have come from vendors, Howard emphasized that city staff's conversations would be with homeowners.
"All we get from the vendors is a sales pitch," he said. "Homeowners have to get educated. We want to know you know what you're doing."
In answer to a question about potential damage to the city's or a neighbor's equipment, Hemphill said protection is in place to "shut things down" before any damage occurred.
"If you do what we say, there shouldn't be any issues to us or to neighbors," Howard added.
Commissioner Gary Skaggs described a scenario: Somebody puts in one of these systems (wind or solar power) and his bill is zero. He tells his friends and neighbors. Skaggs then questioned whether there are ordinances restricting height of structures, distance from property lines and protection from noise. The answer, according to Howard, is yes to all three.
"If it's noisy, we disconnect it," he commented.
The regulation that stops someone from installing a facility that pushes too much energy back to the city prevents unfair competition that "exaggerates the cost for the customer who doesn't have a wind generator," Hemphill said. "He pays little if any of the other costs (of operating an electrical system). The burden of maintaining capacity falls on other residential customers."
He emphasized that anyone contemplating such a system do it only to produce power for their own use, and not for any potential profit.
Howard argued against renewable energy systems.
"In my opinion, there is no payback. You'll never get your money back," he said. "That's the reason the government has to subsidize it."