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Co-ops offer solar energy projects to members  

Co-ops offer solar energy projects to members

Rox Carisch, right, chief executive officer, and Keaton Hildreth, administration manager/member service representative, Calhoun County REC, explain that the cooperative's solar energy project was built with an educational objective.

Corn Belt Power News

With the objectives to educate members and respond to their requests for renewable options, many of Corn Belt Power Cooperative’s member cooperatives have built new solar energy projects.

All under 150 kilowatts in size, the projects are enrolled in Basin Electric Power Cooperative’s Renewable Purchase Rate, offered to members to mirror what the cooperative pays for large wind project purchases. The program is now fully subscribed and no longer available to new projects.

Midland Power Cooperative’s 147-kilowatt project is located in Iowa Falls next to the cooperative’s service center in the Southview Industrial Park. Midland Power sells the output of the project, which first started generating in March, in its community solar program. Subscriptions cost $870 per share and pay back for 20 years as bill credits.

The co-op anticipates the project will generate 250,000 kilowatt-hours per year. Daily output totals, along with statistics on how many homes can be powered, can be viewed on the cooperative’s website.

Kara Boyle, marketing and business development specialist, Midland Power, helps market the project and says, “It’s a way to get members involved who don’t have the option to have a solar array. It’s convenient to have the credit appear on their bills every month.”

Bill McKim, chief executive officer, Midland Power, comments, “Our community solar project builds on the cooperative legacy of the 1930s, which brought people together to accomplish a goal that they could not do alone. This project builds on that legacy and demonstrates our commitment to environmental stewardship.”

Franklin REC’s solar project is located south of the co-op’s headquarters building and came online at the end of March. The co-op markets output of the 148.5-kilowatt project as community solar and sells shares for $700 each. So far, members have purchased more than 90 shares for a term of 25 years. They receive bill credits each month and, based on production, should see their investment pay back in approximately 12 to 13 years.

Becky Bradburn, general manager, Franklin REC, forecasts the project will generate approximately 220,000 kilowatt-hours in its first year. “Our members wanted this project,” Bradburn explains. “We included a question in our survey about community solar and received a lot of response from members who were interested. Several were interested in investing more than $1,000.”

Generation output totals can be viewed through a link on Franklin REC’s website. The cooperative is looking to install up to three more solar projects in the future that may also offer shares for sale.

Bradburn also manages Prairie Energy Cooperative, which has built a 139-kilowatt array next to Corn Belt Power’s Willemssen Substation, southeast of Clarion. The community solar project sells for $650 per share with an 18-year term.

The project came online at the end of July and 21 shares were sold in the first month.

Prairie Energy chose the site next to Corn Belt Power’s substation because it allows for the three-phase project to connect directly to the substation, which is more cost effective than building it in a more remote location.

Bradburn says, “We just had a rate increase in November, so that is driving most of the interest. Several members were looking at doing their own solar and evaluated the cost savings of buying into community solar.”

Generation statistics can be viewed on Prairie Energy’s website.

Raccoon Valley Electric Cooperative brought its 147-kilowatt project online in May. Located near Sac City, the solar energy array serves as a demonstration and education project and power is not sold in individual subscriptions.

The modules are expected to generate more than 208,000 kilowatt-hours per year, which would provide enough power for 10 average residential accounts, according to Jim Gossett, the co-op’s chief executive officer.

“Thankfully, we were able to start the project in May and could catch sun right away. We have generated at the most productive time of the year,” Gossett says.

Raccoon Valley plans to build four more solar energy sites in the future, including those in Coon Rapids and Wall Lake, which are planned to be completed and energized by the end of 2017. The Coon Rapids project will offer subscriptions with members paying $700 per unit up front and receiving production credits on their bills for 20 years. If electric rates go up, the credits will also increase, buffering the members against future rate increases.

Gossett says, “It’s a viable option for members, especially those whose location is not fit for member-owned solar.”

Raccoon Valley plans to install its fourth and fifth solar sites in the Breda and Glidden areas.

Calhoun County REC energized its solar energy project Aug. 2. Located next to its headquarters building, the solar array is on land the co-op owns and can be seen from highly traveled Highway 4.

The community’s middle school is located across the street from the solar project, which fits right in to the co-op’s objective of building the array for educational purposes.

Rox Carisch, chief executive officer, explains, “The purpose of the project is to educate and inform our members, students and legislators. Due to member interest in renewable energy, we felt it was worthy going forward.”

The 76-kilowatt project is projected to generate 103,000 kilowatt-hours annually, depending on weather conditions, which is enough electricity to power nine residential homes annually.

Calhoun County REC was awarded Clean Renewable Energy Bonds (CREBs) for the project, which are low-interest loans from the federal government. The production tax credit from the state of Iowa contributed 1.5 cents per kilowatt-hour annually to production. The co-op has also submitted an application to be considered for a Rural Energy for American Program (REAP) grant in 2018 from the United States Department of Agriculture.

“This project shows our commitment to our strategic vision to better serve our members with innovation and new technologies, including renewable energy,” Carisch explains. She says that the co-op is tracking member interest and could possibly convert the project to a community solar venture in the future. “Our co-op believes that distributed generation is beneficial to the environment, the utility and the entire membership,” she says.

Calhoun County REC plans to hold a ribbon cutting this fall for the project.

Previous articles in the Watts Watt newsletter detailed solar energy projects at Iowa Lakes Electric Cooperative – a 140-kilowatt array next to the cooperative’s headquarters that came online in October 2016; and at Butler County REC – a 147-kilowatt project by the cooperative’s Horton Warehouse that began generating in January 2017. Both of the projects are demonstration projects that do not currently sell subscriptions.

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