New Research Shows a Solar Revolution in Rural America

ARLINGTON, Va. –The rapid acceleration of solar development by America’s electric cooperatives is transforming the energy landscape in rural America. According to a new report, electric co-ops today own or purchase more than nine times as much solar energy as they did in 2013.

In 2013, the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association (NRECA) received a grant from the Department of Energy (DOE) to help electric cooperatives remove barriers to solar development. Through the ensuing Solar Utility Network Deployment Acceleration (SUNDA) project, NRECA worked with 17 electric cooperatives to develop models and resources for co-ops interested in developing solar energy.

“Electric cooperatives are led by and belong to the communities that they serve. This heightened community focus allows co-ops to quickly adapt to evolving consumer expectations,” said NRECA CEO Jim Matheson. “As solar costs come down, co-ops are bringing the benefits of this renewable resource to local communities and consumer-members across the country, often in places once written off as unsuitable for solar.”

According to the newly released NRECA report:

  • Today, the average co-op solar project is larger than 1 megawatt, up from 25 kW in 2013.
  • Half of the nation’s nearly 900 not-for-profit, member-owned electric co-ops have solar offerings for their consumer-members through projects they own, electricity they purchase or joint projects with other co-ops.
  • Generation and transmission cooperatives (G&Ts) are increasingly leading on solar development.
  • Electric cooperatives lead the electric utility sector in the development of utility-sponsored community solar programs. As of July 2018, nearly a quarter of all co-ops offer a total of 196 existing community solar programs.

Increased consumer interest in solar combined with a decline in the cost of installed solar were key factors in the accelerated adoption of solar among electric cooperatives.

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 landscape. 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.