Driven by increased interest among consumers as well as declining costs, electric co-ops across the country are finding a multitude of ways to bring the benefits of solar to their members.
New data paints a striking picture: America’s electric cooperatives expect to double their current solar capacity by the end of 2017, adding more than 480 MW of solar this year for a total capacity of 872 MW nationwide, according to figures from the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association (NRECA).
In a recent nationwide survey, electric co-ops were asked why they offer or support solar options. More than two-thirds of respondents said they were motivated by a desire to increase consumer-member satisfaction and a majority cited member demand. Increased affordability also played a role, with nearly half of respondents citing the decline in the cost of renewable energy as a factor in enhancing their solar energy program. The survey results clearly show co-ops are listening to their members and they care about costs. As consumer-owned utilities, electric co-ops view solar as a consumer resource. That’s why co-ops lead the utility sector in developing community solar or “shared solar,” a program that enables co-op members to invest in solar farms built and operated by the co-op.
Cooperation among cooperatives is another key co-op principle, and collaboration is critical to the growth in solar. In 2016, cooperatives announced nine joint projects involving more than 200 local co-ops. Cost savings from the economies of scale in large projects make these projects more affordable. Cooperatives also collaborate by sharing information and knowledge with the nationwide network of cooperative peers.
As the early solar adopters gained experience and know-how, they shared best practices with the co-op community. Some co-ops are partnering with local rooftop solar installers or even doing rooftop installation for their members. Other co-ops are installing solar-powered water heaters and irrigation systems. There is no one-size-fits-all program for electric co-ops. Cooperatives are developing a variety of solar options, from huge arrays covering hundreds of acres to residential solar installations.
In March 2017, Kansas Electric Power Cooperative, FreeState’s power supplier, celebrated the opening of its 1 megawatt Prairie Sky Solar Farm. The solar farm, when generating electricity at full capacity, can supply the energy needs of about 164 homes.
No matter what their size, circumstances or geographic location, all-electric co-ops have one thing in common when it comes to solar: they want to help their members make energy choices that are right for them.
If you are interested in solar, or other renewable energy options please contact the cooperative at 1-800-794-1989.