The National Rural Electric Cooperative Association (NRECA) announced that four additional member-owned co-op utilities representing rural areas from Tennessee, Colorado and Kansas have joined the Solar Utility Network Deployment Acceleration (SUNDA). Each has committed to develop utility-scale solar projects of at least 1 megawatt in size.
“As increasing numbers of co-ops explore solar options for their members, the SUNDA project is providing tools, insights and real-world experience,” said Jim Spiers, NRECA vice president for business and technology strategies. “The SUNDA tools enable any and all of the nation’s 900 electric co-ops to make an informed decision for their consumer-members and, for those co-ops intending to deploy solar, reduce the risks and maximize the benefits.”
The SUNDA project comes from a mandate made by the Department of Energy in 2013 to increase rural solar development by co-op utilities across the accelerator hopes to eliminate obstacles that prevent rural co-ops from developing solar projects, by standardizing project financing, energy pricing, reducing equipment and operation costs. It’s also exploring new models for energy distribution to make solar power accessible to more customers in rural markets.
“Electric cooperatives in the SUNDA project are leading the way in delivering cost-effective, clean, renewable solar energy to interested members,” said Brad Gibson, Middle Tennessee EMC’s chief cooperative business officer.
Co-ops’ commitment to solar power expansion continues to gain support and individual projects are getting larger, making rates cheaper for customers. For instance, new member, Poudre Valley REA in Fort Collins, CO, continues to make solar power more accessible by exploring new business models and establishing scaled affordability programs for low and moderate income customers.
Rural cooperatives are governed differently than investor-owned utilities by state governments. Moreover, as non-profit entities, they do not have access to the same renewable energy incentives and cannot raise funds on publicly traded markets. As such states’ have had lower renewable energy requirements for co-ops. The unequal standards and requirements mandated state to state have created a lag in development and investment in solar producing facilities in rural areas.
However, state legislatures are working to increase mandated renewable energy requirements for co-ops to at least more closely match those of investor-owned utilities. For instance, Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper (D) signed State Bill 252 in 2013 expanding requirements of the state’s municipal and rural co-op electricity producers to increase total energy output by renewable sources, like solar and wind, from 10 to 20 percent by 2020.
Solar installations by rural co-ops can still have a huge impact on states. For instance, largely rural Iowa, increased its solar energy production 20 percent when the Central Iowa Power Cooperative (CIPCO) announced plans to build 5.5 megawatts of solar farms at six locations.Tweet