A Visit to the Bruce A. Henry Solar Energy Farm
December 05, 2015
By Edi Yaffe
Upon the group’s arrival, members were awestruck by the size of the solar field, which spans over 23 acres. Mark Nielson, VP of Staff Services at Delaware Electric Cooperative, and Rob Book, VP of Member Services, greeted the students with great enthusiasm. After the short meet-and-greet, Mr. Nielson, an engineer by background, drew the students in as he explained the complex processes underway at the site. “We mount our solar panels on a fixed axis, rather than employing a variable axis, which would allow the panels to follow the sun. Fixing their angle allows us to fit more panels in the area,” he explained. There is an inherent monetary benefit of the extra fixed-axis panels, which outweighs the per-capita gains of varying the panels’ axes.
The farm’s total costs were in excess of $14 million, which funded the over 23 acres of solar panels. That said, the farm generated a mere 4 MW/AC on average. The cooperative had plans to expand another 17 acres to facilitate an excess of 3 MW/AC of production. Mr. Nielson continued to explain to us the process by which the DC energy harnessed by the panels was converted to the AC form necessary for mainstream consumption.
After an in-depth tour of the solar farm (and plenty of photo opportunities!), the group got back on the bus and drove to the Delaware Electric Cooperative’s offices. At the offices, the group met some of the Cooperative’s top, including Dave Shapley, V.P. of Operations and Engineering; and Gary D. Cripps, COO and CFO of the Cooperative. The students and employees continued their conversations over a delicious Chick-Fil-A lunch provided by the Cooperative.
Midway through the lunch, Mark Nielson began his presentation. He went into depth on the Co-Op’s business dynamics and financial structure. The DEC, he clarified in his presentation, does not own only solar farms; it also dedicates much of its business to other sources of energy, such as nuclear and industrial and residential solar installation. He explained the characteristics of the solar energy market in Delaware, including state tax credits, grants, and other costs.
An important consideration for the DEC is peak energy consumption. This comes at 5pm during the summer, which is when the cost of energy is the highest (demand determines price). “Furthermore, the costs are decreasing at an exponential level, which is making solar energy more and more accessible to Delaware residents,” he continued. In 2014, there was no new coal generating capacity added, and solar power was the second-highest growing energy source after natural gas. This is indicative of the United States’ effort to make cleaner sources of energy more accessible and prevalent. From there, Rob Book and the rest of the executive team fielded the group’s questions.
The group then headed back to the bus to return to campus. Everyone reflected on the new things they had learned about solar energy, and they agreed that the trip was a success!
A huge thank you to the Manager of Marketing and Communications at DEC, Jeremy Tucker, who helped plan and arrange the tour of the farm and the presentation afterwards, and both the Penn Wharton Public Policy Initiative and the Kleinman Center for Energy Policy for the funding and support for the trip.
More info on the Delaware Electric Cooperative can be found at: http://www.delaware.coop
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