Electric cooperatives or power cooperatives play a major role in the generation of power in most country sides and counties across the U.S. The rural electric cooperatives model has been replicated with success throughout the U.S. and in some other countries in North America. According to an article on Wikipedia, there are over 900 rural electric utility cooperatives in the U.S. alone and they play a pivotal role in the determination of power policies. This is why it is a big deal that rural cooperatives are tilting towards community-scale solar energy. According to a blog by RMI Outlet, out of these, 840 are distribution cooperatives and the remaining 60-65 are generation and transmission cooperatives. Together, they impact lives of an estimated 42 million Americans.
The buzzword at the moment among these extremely influential cooperatives is community-scale solar power and how it can improve the condition of the villages by saving money, reducing pollution and carbon footprint, diversify the energy portfolio and thus reduce dependence on fossil fuels and other conventional energy resources.
The biggest attraction for these cooperatives is the cost effectiveness of solar panels with falling PV prices, making solar projects competitive with conventional energy projects. There is a possibility that regulations like the RPS standard may become mandatory in the foreseeable future. These cooperatives want to take preemptive measures. If replacements have to be made wholesale suddenly, it would put tremendous pressure on the supply chain and distort the market. This would keep them ahead of the race.
Owners of these cooperatives are looking for economic rejuvenation and demanding a switch to clean, green energy and these cooperatives have no other alternative but to listen to them.
COMMUNITY-SCALE SOLAR POWER IS THE OVERWHELMING CHOICE FOR MOST RURAL COOPERATIVES
Many cooperatives are getting into long-term agreements with midscale solar PV arrays that are connected to distribution grids. Community-scale solar power generators are capable of producing power in the range of 0.5 Megawatt to 5 Megawatt. Getting into a Power Purchase Agreement with small utility-scale solar power generators which feed their production to distribution grids and subscribing to shared solar distribution grids are the preferred choices. This gives the rural electric cooperatives the power to leverage the economies of scale of these small utility-scale power generators.
BENEFITS OF COMMUNITY-SCALE SOLAR POWER FOR RURAL ELECTRIC COOPERATIVES
Creation of jobs and more local taxes: Community-scale solar power projects can generate more jobs for members of the local communities and also generate more taxes. This goes right back into the development work for the communities. Big utility power companies demand more revenue for their sustenance and the money expended doesn’t come back into the community economy. The job created and revenue generated improves the quality of local lives.
Minimize energy and line loss: Controlling community-scale solar power generation allows cooperatives to reduce wastage of energy passing through high extension wires as these community-scale solar PVs can be located adjacent to distribution grids; the lines are much smaller which reduce wastage of energy.
Autonomy: Rural cooperatives can increase their autonomy and self-reliance by switching to community-scale solar. It would reduce their dependence on utilities and generation and transmission companies as well as reduce bills.
It is only a matter of time before more and more rural electric co-ops opt for a community-scale solar model of energy generation. As more players enter this market and options increase, this space has the potential to expand at a phenomenal rate and transform the entire rural economy. The wheels have already been set in motion. Just a matter of time before it gains more momentum!