Solar Project Ramps Up in Fulton County
Writer / Matt Keating
The new Fulton County REMC solar and Tesla battery project will benefit many residents in Talma, Indiana, according to two people heavily involved in the project.
Joseph Koch, chief executive officer (CEO) of Fulton County REMC, and Jim Straeter, founder of Ag Technologies, Inc., feel the project will provide a financial benefit for Fulton County REMC members.
“The project consists of 1.2 megawatt solar array and two Tesla Megapack batteries,” Koch says. “The solar array can charge the batteries or put electricity back on the grid. The batteries will store up to five megawatts of electricity, which will be used to reduce the cooperative’s usage during peak usage times.”
REMC is the ultimate user of the solar and battery project.
“Fulton County REMC is a not-for-profit rural electric cooperative,” Koch says. “All excess funds received by the cooperatives each year are allocated back to our members. The members of the cooperatives will be the ultimate users of the solar energy.”
Koch, who has been with Fulton County REMC for 23 years and CEO for the last 10, notes that the project was completed using several local Fulton County businesses.
“We tried to use local businesses on the project and succeeded,” Koch says. “Tesla and the panel manufacturer were the only two nonlocal businesses on the project.”
Straeter feels the project is exciting.
“The REMC solar project is indeed new, as the solar started producing on September 11, 2021,” he says. “The battery system is fully installed, but we are waiting on meters in order to make the batteries fully operational. Solar will provide renewable energy well above the amount of energy the batteries will charge and discharge annually.”
Straeter explains that the batteries are there to peak shave, which means that when the utility demand is at its highest, and energy value is also at its highest, the batteries will discharge, thereby reducing the energy that has to be produced at a generation plant.
“It is this peak demand that challenges utilities to meet because very often the time it takes to ramp up electric production to meet demand is simply too long,” he says.
Straeter notes that solar energy is cost efficient.
“Fundamentally, solar energy is the lowest-cost energy available today,” he says. “Beyond that, once a solar system is installed, the cost to run that system is essentially fixed, thereby eliminating any real inflationary possibility over time. Rising costs are a big problem, and energy costs are a major factor for business and residences.”
Straeter adds that the project will reduce costs to Fulton County REMC members, and reduce inflation pressure.
“The batteries will save demand charges for the REMC well above the battery costs, so the net savings will flow through to members in the form of reduced electricity rates,” he says. “The side benefits are the pollinator field we intend to pair with the solar production field, and the environmental benefit of no carbon emissions from energy produced with solar.”
Straeter is also happy the project employed so many local businesses.
“We used local subcontractors for the entire project,” he says. “Craig Welding is located in the county, and has built our solar stands for years. Murphy Electric did the wiring along with Ag Technologies and the REMC staff. Solar projects create jobs, and in this case a local solar project created work for local companies.”
Straeter adds that the project will be watched closely by other REMC utility companies, and will pave a path for others to replicate what they have done.
“The beneficial impact of a more reliable grid and lower costs will be broad,” he says.
Ag Technologies has had a long association with Fulton County REMC, because they have installed solar systems at a number of REMC customers’ homes according to Straeter.
“That association has been great,” he says. “The Tesla battery system is a first effort for Ag Technologies and the Fulton County REMC. Tesla has been very good to work with up to this point, and once we get the meters installed, we are confident that battery management and service support by Tesla will be as promised. We anticipate that the relationship between Ag Technologies and REMC will continue positively for a long time, and that the Tesla association for both of us will be long term and mutually beneficial.”