Sunny Side Up?

There's been something floating around in my head since Monday night's council meeting. One item from the consent agenda entitled "Resolution Authorizing the Mayor to Request a Fee Waiver from Duke Energy for Town Solar Energy Projects with 'Buy All/Sell All' Metering," sparked a mini-feud between Matt Czajkowski and Mayor Foy. Apparently, Duke Energy charges a rate for two-way metering that is significantly more than the rate they charge for a meter box on a typical usage-only application. As in, perhaps several times more. The exorbitant fee is putting a damper on the rate of return on the town's experimental panels on top of the fire station, and the mayor wanted to ask Duke if they could provide a more reasonable rate, whereas this is a rather experimental project, and is benefiting both Duke (who is getting the energy at peak usage hours, aka daylight hours), and the entire community, as per environmental benefits.

For whatever reason, Czajkowski seemed to think it was completely unreasonable to ask Duke for a reduced rate. No, he didn't just think we wouldn't be able to get a reduced rate, he thought it was offensive for us to even ask the question, and spent several minutes sitting on this position from different angles. It was entertaining, but I didn't think much of it until today. A few minutes ago, I remembered what Czajkowski does. He's a CFO, but more importantly, he's a CFO at a solar technology company, MegaWatt Solar.

Why is an executive in the solar panel industry arguing in favor of Duke Energy charing us more for an experimental solar program on the fire station? Perhaps this line below, taken directly from the MegaWatt Solar homepage, will yield a clue (emphasis added): " MegaWatt Solar, Inc., in partnership with the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, teamed with Scatec to develop a cost-effective and scalable solar power generator for utility-sized applications."

Maybe it's just a coincidence, but it seems curious to me.




is a big concern for utilities - especially the less progressive utilities like Duke & Progress. The most efficient way to generate power is on-site. Every building (or small cluster of buildings) has its own power generating system. No line loss, no power outages when the trees fall, no gargantuan plants to upset communities, etc. Obviously those utilities whose primary concern is their profits and their control of energy do not want decentralized energy, They want to transition to renewable energy when they can be in charge of the toll booth. It could be tough for them to pull off and a cause for celebration if their hubris brings them trouble. In fact, it would be a great victory for people, politics, and the environment.

"Apparently, Duke Energy charges a rate for two-way metering that is significantly more than the rate they charge for a meter box on a typical usage-only application."

How do you know it doesn't actually cost several times more? Despite being an electrical engineer I am in no way an energy specialist, but did do a little consulting on a electrical metering product for ABB. Electric companies don't invent or build their own equipment, they rely on companies such as ABB to invent, design and build it. Its likely, but not a certainty that the technology involved for the meter in question is more complicated and produced in fewer quantities so as to cause a seemly unbalanced price difference between it and a basic meter.

It is, however, possible to check if you can get the model number of the meter in question. Once the exact piece of equipment is known, then it might be possible to obtain it from another source. 

 "The exorbitant fee is putting a damper on the rate of return on the town's experimental panels on top of the fire station."

Its unknown if the fee is indeed exorbitant, but the panels were also expensive, and the cost of the equipment needed to produce solar electricity is typically amortized over the life of the building to calculate a rate of return.

If the cost of every line item in the production of energy were actually factored in to the cost to the consumer, I don't think we'd see energy prices anywhere close to what they are now. Instead, essentially, the government subsidizes energy companies to the extent that the utilities get to set the rates in a manner that perpetuates their business models, and their contributions to the right politicians have kept it that way for years. I'll feel sorry for Duke Energy not getting to squeeze every last penny for a two-way meter when they start paying for the true cost of the externalities of their coal-fired power plants on the rest of us. Meanwhile, where's the harm in asking for a lower rate?

Interesting Jason. Have you asked Matt to explain his objections?

Here's a good explanation of net metering:

Hi Terri and thanks for asking. Just to be clear, I voted for the resolution. My purpose in making my remarks was to ensure that the council understood the circumstances of the request it was making. First of all, it wasn't the Mayor who was making the request it was the sustainability committee. Presumably they are the ones who analyzed the project before it was installed. The fundamental problem is that in order to allow electricity to flow into the grid, Duke has to install special connection and metering equipment for which there is a cost. Whatever we may think of the current requirement that Duke charge for the cost of that equipment, Duke is regulated by the Utility Commission and does not have the unilateral right to decide not to charge for it. Whether we think that is right or not it is clearly stated in the agreement. The view I was trying to express was that we should have done the analysis before we committed to the installation. Now it appears that the Town is faced with a project which will actually cost us money rather than make it and only now are we appealing. If we want to change the policy, Ed Harrison's suggestion that we approach the Utility Commission is the only viable approach. Howard Lee (former Mayor of Chapel Hill) is a member of the Commission and I'm sure others know him better than me.

As for Megawatt Solar, our goal is to provide the first cost competitive solar alternative to conventional sources of electricity whether it is provided through the grid or directly to users. A utility-sized application (which Jason quoted in bold) would be at least 1 megawatt. To give you a sense of proportion, 1 megawatt is almost 300 times what the fire station panel generates.

Hope that's helpful


Thanks Matt. I've been reading about net metering and most of the references I've checked say that standard electric meters are capable of reading backward and forward so that new meters are not required to sell back to the grid. Is that information incomplete or is there something unique about the fire station meter?
Unless he creates an account and then logs in with his name, we the readers, have no way of knowing if this is really a comment from Matt Czajkowski. Sounds like him and Terri thinks it is but I have no form of proof.
I know people whose solar systems are hooked up to the grid as part of the Green Power program and have never heard them complain about this issue. They are getting quite a bit more for what they produce than what they use.

...  is in this entry.  While political blogs can be enlightening, at their worse they are no better than gossip.  Here we have a personal attack on a local politician based on a grossly one-sided view of the topic, with no apparent effort to present all of the facts of the situation.

Whatever you think of individuals on the town council, they are doing this town a service, and deserve better than this.


Your interpretation of what went down is different from mine.  Jason went to the council meeting, listened to an exchange that didn't make sense to him, formulated a hypothesis and posed it to the community.  His hypothesis was perhaps a bit on the conspiratorial side, but who among us hasn't gone down that road once or twice?

 Once post was up, though, Mr. Czajkowski came on the blog and clarified his position eloquently, without anger, and directly to Jason.  The direct line of communication between a politician and a concerned constituent has to be a good thing, right?

I don't know if Jason was satisfied with Matt's explanation or not -- he'll have to answer that for himself.  But its hard to fault OP for putting the whole thing in front of our noses.


Oh, and Matt, I think Jason's bit about "utility-sized applications" was meant to imply that you might view Duke Power as a potential customer for MegaWatt, and therefore treat issues involving them with divided loyalties.  I think that's a stretch, but I believe it was Jason's key concern.

In the past many years, I have observed only a very few ethical lapses on the part of our lcoal elected officials. But when I have, the local media has undoubtedly looked the other way. If reporters aren't going to do it, I think this kind of watchdogging is one of the greatest services political blogs can provide.

Others in this community (including Matt C.) haven't restrained themselves when they felt critical of OP, and I don't expect them to. I believe we should be respectful and as truthful as possible, but it doesn't mean we have to relegate critical comments to whispering campaigns (like the one that existed about John McCormick for years).

Most importantly, by writing about this publicly, Jason has given Matt the opportunity to hear the concerns, and to respond to it. That's democracy in action!

In retrospect, I wish I had presented my question a little differently - not because I regret having asked it, but because I'm much more interested in a discussion of the issue than of my phrasing. I've been known to be unaware of how bluntly I put things sometimes, and I'm sorry if that took away from what I said. I also know I sometimesfault in assuming that everyone who reads this blog is as wonky as I am. Rather than presenting Matt's side of the story for him in a way that I'm sure couldn't capture it as well as he could himself, I just work under the assumption that interested folks would listen to what Matt actually said. While that's second nature to me to just go check it out, I should have provided a link to the council video: (starting at 1:36:15)

Having said that, I don't feel particularly apologetic for asking for input and thoughts from an informed readership in a semi-public forum about comments made by a public official at a public meeting. I'd argue that putting my question out in the open is probably the least likely way to have it start churning along the rumor mill. Obviously there is a part of what I asked that Matt is not going to be able to give a satisfactory answer to me himself, but I think it's better that I ask here than whispering around town hall trying to find an answer. I'd like to thank Matt for clarifying his stance, but I don't feel sorry for asking in a group setting, because as I said, it wasn't really a question just for him.

I don't think either you or Matt has done anything to apologize for.  If I understand your concern correctly (that Matt may have divided loyalties on issues regarding companies that MegaWatt may view as potential customers), you have every right to voice it publicly.  I didn't construe your post as accusatory or even gossipy, just concerned, and perhaps a bit suspicious of Matt's motives.  There's nothing wrong with either of those things.

I would like to hear Matt's take on why the fire station's metering equipment is apparently so expensive, which I think Terri has now asked about twice.  And also, I wouldn't mind hearing Matt address your main concern specifically and directly.  Chapel Hill is going to have to deal with Duke and Progress on a regular basis, and if they really are potential clients of MegaWatt's, a few words from Matt on how he plans to manage the potential conflict of interest might be in order.  

Its worth pointing out that I don't know if there is any potential conflict of interest here, and I'm not prepared to make any assumptions about it.  I'm only advocating for clarity and directness now that the question has been raised.

What if Matt had not responded? It would be out there until maybe a reporter picked up on it and asked the questions. This seems to be one of the big differences, as your guidelines indicate, we are to have no expectation of an answer from anyone. Public officials, for good or ill, have a different relationship with the traditional media.


I don't fault OP, but I also think it could have been asked in a way that didn't imply that the facts were already known/understood. A direct question could have done that, but I suspect there are more than a few who will disagree.

Come on GIANTS!



Could you please provide the electrical cost figures that will help us understand this ?





Hi Mark,

According to the "Quick Report" from the last SEE meeting on January 18th the committee received "a presentation from staff concerning the finalized solar power payback assessments for Fire Station #1 and the Hargraves Community Center". I have asked Roger Stancil for a copy and will let you know as soon as I receive it.




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