South Central Power | South Central Power

Consumer interest driving co-op solar

April 25, 2017

Driven by increased interest among consumers as well as declining costs, electric cooperatives 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 co-ops 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.

Co-ops 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. 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.