GOING SOLAR IN KANSAS

Zenernet Blog · July 30, 2019

A look at the unique challenges of going solar in the Sunflower State... And why it's still worth considering

The state of Kansas isn’t exactly a hotbed of solar installations. If you live in Kansas, the chances are good that you don’t know anyone around with a solar installation. Kansans who spend time in the neighboring states of Missouri and Colorado are likely to have noticed the presence of solar panels on roofs in those places, but they’re nowhere to be found at home. 

There are several reasons for this. Traditional coal-powered energy is reasonably affordable in Kansas, so there’s just not the same urgency to seek alternatives as there is in other states. Without this urgency, the level of public interest in, and knowledge of, alternative energy sources, including solar, is lower. Kansas also uses monthly net metering instead of annual net metering, which is less advantageous to homeowners. On top of this, Kansas utility regulators recently approved a measure that allows Westar and Kansas City Power & Light (the two biggest utility providers in the state, which merged since the measure passed) to assess a demand charge to customers who install solar panels.

This demand charge, which is not assessed to traditional energy customers, allows the utility to charge a premium each month to homeowners who go solar. Each month, the utility will take the highest 15-minute period of use from between the hours of 2 pm and 7 pm, and use it to calculate the amount of the demand charge to be assessed. Most of the year, the fee is $3 per kilowatt used during the highest 15 minute period, but during the summer months, it’s $9 per kilowatt. This can add up quickly – which is great for the utility, which protects its revenue stream, but not so great for homeowners, who risk losing many of the financial benefits of going solar.

The demand charge in Kansas is certainly a tough obstacle for homeowners interested in going solar. But solar can still be valuable for Kansas homeowners, and it's definitely still worth considering.

Due to the monthly net metering policy and the presence of the demand charge in Kansas, the approach to going solar is a little bit different. In many other states, the object when designing a residential solar system is to offset as much of a home’s energy usage as possible and replace it with solar production. In Kansas, under the current conditions, it’s best to design a system that only offsets the equivalent of the lowest month of energy consumption – about 50 to 80 percent of a home’s annual consumption. 

This may seem counterintuitive, but there’s a reason for this approach. Under monthly net metering, there’s no advantage to overproducing energy. In states with net metering, it makes sense to build the biggest system possible, because net metering credits add up in the summertime, when the system produces at its best, and can be rolled over to use in the winter when the system produces less. Not so with net billing. Kansas customers can’t roll over excess energy production to a subsequent month. Bigger systems cost more, so designing a system without the net billing policy in mind will lead to a higher payment without adding value. Throw in the demand charge, and a homeowner who goes solar with a bigger-than-necessary system can quickly find themselves paying much more for energy, not less. 

The combination of monthly net metering and the demand charge, and the smaller system sizes they necessitate, makes it a little more challenging for solar to provide value. However, it’s still possible to achieve day-one savings and reap great benefits from going solar. By working with an experienced company that fully understands the state policies, you can save money by going solar in Kansas – especially if you take advantage of our special, limited-time Group Buy offer. 

The most important takeaway for Kansans interested in going solar: thoroughly understand state policies, and work with a company that understands them. Zenernet’s headquarters is in Leawood, Kansas. We manage solar installations across the country, but Kansas is our backyard. We understand the policies currently in place, and we understand how to design a system that works within those policies to build value for homeowners. We’re also keeping a close eye on the status of those policies, and we’ll be able to react when and if they’re changed, for better or worse. 

That’s one of the reasons we design our systems to be future-proof: if a day comes when it becomes advantageous to have a bigger system in Kansas, we’ll be ready to help you expand from the small one that makes sense now. 

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