The National Rural Electric Cooperative Association (NRECA) is teaming up with 17 member-owned rural energy co-ops across the US. Under its PV System Toolkit program, NRECA will assist rural utilities add more than 23 megawatts (MWs) of utility-scale solar project across 15 states, including Texas, Georgia and Tennessee, by the end of 2017. The program will help these rural utilities harness a ready-to-use collection of engineering designs, financing models and materials suites to navigate the steps of integrating solar into their energy portfolios.
Rural energy co-ops provide electricity to 12 percent of all customers—but across 70 percent of the US's geographic area. As the cost of solar decreases, small energy providers are increasingly interested in providing customers with renewable energy options, even rural utilities with less access to financing. With NRECA’s toolkit and similar programs, these cooperatives as well as their more urban counterparts, are expected to collectively double their solar capacity by the end of 2017, developing more than 480 MWs of new projects and raising their total amount of installed solar power to 873 MWs.
Through the toolkit, NRECA will help co-ops understand barriers to financing solar projects and it will help connect them with private equity firms and third-party investors. The organization will also work with rural energy providers to deploy solar projects with business models crafted to the unique needs of their communities.
The effort builds on work NRECA has already done with rural energy providers. With the organization’s guidance, co-ops have created flexible payment plans and solar subscription services to make solar more affordable and accessible to rural customers. For instance, the Middle Tennessee Electric Membership Corporation created a program for members who choose to opt in to a community solar project to pay $20 each month for the output of 5.5 solar panels in the project. Likewise, NRECA assisted CoServ Electric deploy a 2 megawatt community solar project in Krugerville, Texas where members can purchase kilowatt-hour blocks of solar generated electricity.
As the costs of solar continues to decrease, co-op utilities’ interest in using NRECA’s PV System Toolkit program has increased significantly. Expanding use of the toolkit was funded by a Sunshot Initiative award, Solar Utility Networks: Replicable Innovations in Solar Energy (SUNRISE). Thanks to that funding and interest, NRECA has held webinars attended by 3,000 representatives from 347 co-ops between 2015 and 2016. An additional 4,600 co-op board members and staffers have also attended solar training sessions since the toolkit’s inception.Tweet