Ag Secretary Announces $81 Million for Colorado Co-ops’ Solar Projects

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack visits Poudre Valley REA in Fort Collins, Colorado, on June 17 to announce funding for clean energy projects being developed by PVREA and Delta-Montrose Electric Association in Montrose, Colorado. (Photo Courtesy: Poudre Valley REA)

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack traveled to Poudre Valley Rural Electric Association in Fort Collins, Colorado, on Monday to announce $81 million in special loan funding to help PVREA and Delta-Montrose Electric Association in Montrose, Colorado, develop innovative clean energy projects that combine solar power and battery storage.

“The projects we’re announcing today will create good-paying jobs, lower energy costs for consumers, reduce greenhouse gas emissions and strengthen the resiliency of our nation’s electric grid,” Vilsack said during a news conference at the headquarters of Poudre Valley REA.

Delta-Montrose Electric Association will receive a $72 million low-interest, partially forgivable loan from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Powering Affordable Clean Energy (PACE) program to help finance a huge 20-megawatt solar photovoltaic array with an additional 80 megawatt-hours of battery storage. It is the second-largest PACE award in the nation so far, USDA officials said. The excess electricity generated from solar power can be stored in the battery and used as needed to ease peak demand.

The solar array will make up about 10% of DMEA’s overall load and produce enough energy to power about 7,000 homes when it is completed—most likely in 2030, the co-op estimated.

The total cost of the project is $96 million. The USDA is forgiving 40% of the co-op’s $72 million loan and—with additional funding opportunities from the 2022 Inflation Reduction Act that created the PACE program—DMEA will be seeking up to another 50% of the project costs in federal tax incentives, co-op leaders said.

“This is a monumental win for DMEA and our members,” said CEO Jack Johnston. “This investment not only enables us to produce affordable energy, further stabilizing member rates, but it also improves local grid reliability. The energy we generate right here at home can be efficiently delivered to our members, bypassing the reliance on distant power plants and extensive transmission lines.”

Poudre Valley REA will receive a $9 million loan from the PACE program to build two separate projects. The first will be a 1.5-MW utility-scale solar power distribution system that will be coupled with battery storage, said Jeff Wadsworth, the co-op’s president and CEO.

The second project will be a 2-MW community solar farm that will also be paired with battery storage. It will be the co-op’s fourth and largest community solar farm, he said.

“In the state of Colorado, it’s important to our members that we work through the energy transition in a responsible way that ensures reliability and affordability as well as a more sustainable grid,” Wadsworth said. “These are legacy projects that are going to benefit our community for years to come.”

PACE will provide a total of up to $1 billion to fund clean energy projects and energy storage in rural America. The program offers low-interest loans with up to 60% loan forgiveness to rural energy providers—including electric cooperatives—for projects that use wind, solar, hydropower, geothermal and biomass.

Earlier this year at NRECA’s PowerXchange in San Antonio, Texas, Vilsack announced four PACE applications totaling $139 million that were moving forward. USDA officials said they expect to announce more awards in the coming months.

Erin Kelly is a staff writer for NRECA.