DOE Selects NRECA for Wind Energy Research Initiative

Arlington, Va. –The Department of Energy has selected the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association (NRECA) to research small-scale, community-based wind energy solutions that can be deployed by electric cooperatives.

NRECA is partnering with Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL), Hoss Consulting and Mana Group LLC on research to develop business models and technologies for wind projects that can benefit cooperative consumer-members, communities and their electric distribution cooperatives, and rural generation and transmission cooperatives.

NRECA will team with co-ops around the country to evaluate and deploy diverse types of distributed wind projects. The project aims to increase understanding of the potential benefits of distributed wind and reduce market barriers for the adoption of these technologies in rural areas.

“This collaborative research will help support DOE’s effort to accelerate cost-effective and responsible deployment of distributed wind systems across the United States, raise the quality of distributed wind products, and grow the nation’s domestic energy industry,” said Jim Spiers, senior vice president of Business and Technology Strategies at NRECA. “Small-scale wind is a clean energy resource that can provide unique benefits to rural electric consumers.”

Distributed wind solutions can use various wind technologies, ranging from small off-grid or residential scale turbines to one or more multi-megawatt turbines deployed alone or with other distributed energy technologies. As consumer-owned, not-for-profit utilities, electric cooperatives are well-positioned to develop and evaluate wind as a “distributed energy resource” (DER). NRECA and its co-op partners will examine the potential benefits of added resilience, reduced emissions and lower costs.

Like NRECA’s solar deployment project, a similar DOE-funded program that accelerated utility-scale solar at co-ops across rural America, NRECA expects this project to increase the number of electric cooperatives incorporating wind applications into their resource planning.

DOE has identified high technical potential for “hundreds of thousands of turbines” totaling more than 10 gigawatts of electric capacity on rural distribution grids. However, distributed wind deployment may be limited due to the following factors:

  • Cost competition from other distributed and large-scale renewable technologies.
  • Incomplete understanding of the spectrum of technology options.
  • Lack of documented ROI regarding distributed wind services.
  • Lack of in-house technical expertise at some cooperatives.

By standardizing business processes, developing feasible financing models and educating co-op personnel, the project aims to improve the cost-competitiveness of small-scale wind projects. NRECA’s project will focus on three types of distributed wind projects:

  • Small <100 kilowatt Wind Solutions: Small-scale projects for remote and end-of-the-line customers, where other traditional solutions may be costly.
  • Utility or Community Owned, >100 kilowatt Wind Solutions: Shared wind deployments open to participation by consumer-members.
  • Behind the Meter, >100 kilowatt Wind Solutions: Customer/owner owned resources properly integrated into a utility service territory.

The tools and resources developed in the project will be made available to more than 900 electric co-ops nationwide, as well as the broader utility industry.

The project is supported by DOE’s Wind Energy Technologies Office, which seeks to maximize stakeholder confidence in turbine performance and safety and improve project performance while reducing installed cost in order to be competitive with retail electric rates and other forms of distributed generation.

NRECA will build on its track record of DOE-funded research, which includes the Solar Utility Network Deployment Acceleration (SUNDA) project. This project focused on reducing the soft costs, barriers to entry, and risks of implementing co-op utility photovoltaic solar (PV) through educating, raising the awareness of, and scaling within the co-ops through the use of community solar PV.

The National Rural Electric Cooperative Association is the national trade association representing more than 900 local electric cooperatives. From growing suburbs to remote farming communities, electric co-ops serve as engines of economic development for 42 million Americans across 56 percent of the nation’s landmass. As local businesses built by the consumers they serve, electric cooperatives have meaningful ties to rural America and invest $12 billion annually in their communities.