Electric Co-ops’ Solar Projects Growing in Size and Scope

(ARLINGTON, Va.) – The National Rural Electric Cooperative Association (NRECA) announced today the addition of four not-for-profit, member-owned electric cooperatives to a nationwide initiative that is expanding the nation’s solar footprint. The program is bringing renewable energy to regions once written off as unsuitable for solar development.

Middle Tennessee EMC (Murfreesboro, Tenn.), Appalachian Electric Cooperative (New Market, Tenn.), Poudre Valley REA (Fort Collins, Colo.) and Kansas Electric Power Cooperative (Topeka, Kan.) are joining the Solar Utility Network Deployment Acceleration (SUNDA) project, part of the Department of Energy’s SunShot initiative.

Led by its cooperative participants and managed by NRECA, the SUNDA project aims to accelerate the deployment of PV solar by converting the real-world lessons of co-op solar development into an array of tools and guides that can be used by co-ops across the country.

Each of the new SUNDA members is planning a solar project of approximately one megawatt—the size at which utility solar projects typically become economically viable. 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.

“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.”

Cooperatives have expanded the collective solar footprint, and individual projects are getting bigger; the average SUNDA community solar project is now 1.5 megawatts.

Middle Tennessee and Appalachian Electric are the first members of the Tennessee Valley Authority to join the SUNDA project. Both plan to incorporate community solar offerings. Kansas Electric Power Cooperative plans to optimize its system to meet peak energy needs.

In addition, co-ops are exploring new business models for distributing solar energy and new consumer programs designed to make solar energy accessible to more consumers. In Colorado, Poudre Valley is making solar power accessible to low- and moderate-income members.

“Community solar can serve all our member-owners, regardless of income level,” said Jeff Wadsworth, Poudre Valley’s CEO.

In 2013, the Department of Energy selected NRECA to lead the SUNDA project. The mandate was to identify and eliminate barriers preventing electric cooperatives from completing community solar deployments. Since then, standardization, scalable financial solutions and declining equipment costs have made solar generation projects more affordable.

Now in its fourth year, the SUNDA project is focused on making its resources available to all electric cooperatives.

“The tools produced by the SUNDA team and the information shared by other SUNDA members have already greatly benefited Kansas Electric Power Cooperative,” said Mark Barbee, KEPCo’s vice president of engineering.

In addition to NRECA and America’s electric cooperatives, other participants in the SUNDA program include the National Rural Utility Cooperative Finance Corporation (CFC), Federated Rural Electric Insurance Exchange, and PowerSecure International, Inc.

The National Rural Electric Cooperative Association is the national service organization that represents the nation’s more than 900 private, not-for-profit, consumer-owned electric cooperatives, which provide service to 42 million people in 47 states.

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View an interactive map and learn more about Electric Co-ops and solar.