(ARLINGTON, VA) — Nineteen summer interns at the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association (NRECA) are wrapping up a project examining the feasibility of siting electricity-generating solar panels on NRECA-owned buildings in Lincoln, Neb., and Arlington, Va. The team designed a 17.4 kWp solar array, developed financing models, identified regulatory hurdles and incentives, and designed a communications plan.
“This cross-departmental collaboration among interns is a first for NRECA,” said NRECA CEO Jo Ann Emerson. “Not only does this project provide more meaningful participation in the work of the association, it teaches valuable project management and coordination skills. And in return, NRECA gains insight into our next-generation workforce.”
“The interns used tools and materials NRECA created for member cooperatives developing solar energy projects,” said Jim Spiers, vice president of business and technology strategies at NRECA, whose team conceived the project. “Their experience will help us refine those tools and make them more useful to our members deploying solar projects.”
The interns worked in technical, financial, regulatory and communications teams to research and outline a plan for the project. They weighed the costs and benefits of solar models and financing options that NRECA developed for its member co-ops through the Department of Energy SunShot Initiative.
“When you go into an internship, you want to get as much out of it as you can,” said NRECA intern Kristen Laubscher. “This project gave me hands-on experience in what I’ve been researching and learning about.”
NRECA technical research analyst T.J. Kirk, a former NRECA intern, served as project manager for the summer solar project. “The interns drove this project,” said Kirk. “I’ve just been sitting in the back seat watching the meetings happen and the plans get developed, all entirely by the interns.”
With summer drawing to a close and many interns heading back to college, their work will provide a foundation of research for senior leadership in deciding whether or not to greenlight the solar array.
Either way, it’s a win.
“The project is the cake and the solar panels are the icing,” Spiers said. “If we install the panels, it’s wonderful. If we don’t, we will have learned immensely from it.”
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.