FAIRMONT - Residents of Truman have the highest demand utility rates in southern Minnesota, according to Truman Public Utilities supervisor Jeff Jansen, who is working to lessen the blow.
Jansen is designing a pilot project for a customer to use solar panels to reduce the power drawn from the utility during peak times.
A typical supply chain for electricity routes energy from its creation point - a power plant, wind turbine, etc. - through a distributor, which sells the energy wholesale to a utility, which sells it to the end customer.
Truman Public Utilities is a non-profit organization, looking only to recover the cost of wholesale power and operation costs. Contracts Truman signed with Alliant have been transferred to ITC Holdings, an electric transmission company that charges 1.4 cents more per kilowatt than any other company, Jansen said. Heartland Consumer Power District, from which Truman Public Utilities purchases energy, also charges more than others. The result is that during high demand, Truman residents pay more for power, Jansen says.
Jansen said cost determinations for energy are complicated and vary depending on the economy.
"It is a complicated industry," he said. "It is confusing to keep it all straight."
The average usage in Truman is 713 kilowatts per month per customer. Jansen believes solar panels may lower the cost because everyone is charged for the peak rate, even on days they aren't using peak amounts. Lowering the draw during peak hours - between 11 a.m. and 6 p.m., when the sun is usually shining - will lower everyone's rates.
Jansen also is considering the benefits of storing the solar-generated power in batteries to use during emergencies, or to further draw down the load.
"We believe solar will assist when we need load assist," he said.
He envisions the project dividing the cost of a 10,000-watt solar panel system between the public utility, the wholesaler and the project recipient. He estimates the total cost at $26,000.
Jansen will observe the results of the solar panels on the electrical costs and usage over the course of a year before determining whether they are something that can be used more widely.
Jansen has not officially presented his idea, which is included in the 2013 budget he is drafting, to the Truman Public Utility Commission, but he has been discussing it with people around town.
He talked to Truman Public School Board on Monday night. Superintendent Tom Ames showed the board a copy of the utility bill for the district - $4,025 for one month - and asked board members to consider the benefits of saving even 25 percent.
Jansen believes solar panels are the way to go when considering alternative energy.
"The efficiency of solar panels has increased over the years and the cost has decreased," he said.
In addition to saving money by reducing the load, creating energy locally decreases transmission costs of getting energy to Truman.
"We need customers producing their own energy." Jansen said. "I think that type of thing is coming back around."