Solar array

This solar array built by employees of Kankakee Valley REMC at the company's headquarters in Wanatah in 2015 is capable of generating 100 kilowatts of electricity. It is now part of a network of solar arrays spread across Indiana, Illinois and Missouri with a generating capacity of 1.7 megawatts. 

Provided

Residents in some of the Region's rural areas now have a cheaper option to tap green power.

The Wanatah-based Kankakee Valley REMC, a membership cooperative that delivers electricity to more than 18,000 customers in rural areas of Lake, Porter, LaPorte, Marshall, Pulaski, St. Joseph and Starke counties, began offering a new Co-Op Solar Program this month. The initiative allows members to buy up to half of the electricity they use annually from solar energy sources without having to install solar panels. 

Inquiries have been steady since the co-op announced the new program in its September newsletter, said Amanda Steeb, director of marketing and communications for Kankakee Valley REMC. 

"We've been getting calls daily, and so far I'd say response has been what we expected it to be," Steeb said. "Members are calling with questions about the program and we're mailing out a lot of contracts, so we expect participation to increase."

The co-op's solar program only is available to Kankakee Valley REMC customers.

Members interested in buying power through the program can sign up for as little as 20 cents per share. For a typical co-op member that uses about 1,000 kilowatt hours of electricity at about $134.59 per month, choosing to buy half of that electricity through solar sources translates to an additional $2 to that bill. 

Steeb said the added cost hasn't deterred co-op members who want "green power." A total of 69 shares have been purchased by five co-op members so far, with one member buying 26 shares and another buying 21. 

"Anything green costs a little more," she said. "But a lot of our members are into what's good for the environment, and for the ability to say some of their electricity comes from a green source, the added cost is worth it to them."

The cooperative's new solar program replaces its community solar program, which it introduced in 2015. Through its old program, co-op members could buy electricity from a solar array operated by Kankakee Valley REMC for a period of 25 years at a total cost of $750. 

The co-op estimated participating members would recoup their investment over 16 years. A total of seven customers bought into that program. 

The co-op has since sold its array to its electricity supplier Wabash Valley Power Association, allowing it to join with nine other WVPA member co-ops to buy solar energy from a system spread across Indiana, Illinois and Missouri, capable of generating 1.7 megawatts of electricity. 

Steeb said a total of 5,850 shares can be purchased through the Co-Op Solar Program. When 50 percent of those shares are sold, Wabash Valley Power Association likely will explore building additional solar arrays. 

"If you're interested in green energy, it's a cost-effective alternative because you won't have to go through the expense of installing solar panels on your home or property," Steeb said.   

Merrilville-based NIPSCO, which serves 468,000 electric customers across Northern Indiana, also offers green energy options to its customers. Since launching its green power programs in 2013, 1,160 customers — 1,128 homes and 38 businesses — have signed up. 

NIPSCO customers can choose to buy all of their electricity generated through renewable sources. A residential customer who uses about 1,000 kilowatt hours of power monthly and went all green can expect to pay an additional $1.64 a month on top of their typical electrical costs.

"The program is designed and intended to give options for those wanting to support and utilize green power if they can't (or) don't prefer to install their own renewable energy source at their home or business," said Nick Meyer, a spokesman for NIPSCO. 

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Business Editor of The Times of Northwest Indiana