David McCalla, general manager with GEUS, said the local electric utility is currently exploring how to enter the solar energy business. "Our board has been interested in using solar energy for some time," McCalla said, noting there was $200,000 included in the utility's current budget for solar energy research.
The GEUS board has also conducted recent workshops on the subject.
"We're starting to get a little closer to knowing what we want to do," McCalla said. There are several reasons why GEUS is interested in generating electricity using the sun. "Solar energy really has come a long way during the past couple of years," McCalla said, including a reduction in price, making it more cost-effective.
"The City of Austin is kind of our model city," McCalla said. Not only is Austin a city which is heavily involved in promoting the use of solar energy, a new factory making the thin-film cells needed for solar energy panels is due to be built there. The GEUS effort is nowhere near that far along, McCalla said, but it could be someday. "We just want to maximize the benefit we can get out of that," McCalla said, which may include the obtaining of state and federal matching funds.
"We want this to serve as a pilot project, to launch a community solar energy initiative," McCalla said. "It could ultimately result in incentives we could use to encourage our consumers to use solar energy." Solar energy would prove most valuable to GEUS, McCalla said, during the summer months, helping relieve demand on the existing electric generating facilities.
"The market price is highest when solar energy produces the most," he said, and there could be additional benefits. "If we can do something with solar energy locally, we can provide some economic development locally," McCalla said. "The global objectives are also to reduce the dependence on fossil fuels.