Posted on Friday January 8, 2016
Two NRECA member rural electric cooperatives were first in their respective states to unveil the community-owned solar solution: Midwest Energy (MWE) in Kansas, and Vernon Electric (VEC) in Wisconsin. In partnership with Clean Energy Collective (CEC), the nation’s leading community solar developer, the two cooperatives have taken a lead role in providing the opportunity for their members to own panels in a locally-sited, utility-scale solar PV array.
MWE has developed three community solar arrays totaling 2.6 megawatts, and VEC developed a 305 kW community solar array. For both utilities, it meant opening renewable energy ownership to their entire residential and commercial membership base. Community solar customers received all of the available rebates and tax incentives, which were included in the panel pricing. CEC’s RemoteMeter™ software tracks the power produced and integrates with the utilities’ billing systems to seamlessly deliver credits on individual customer’s monthly bills.
The two projects were initiated because both cooperatives recognized that their members wanted solar energy. Community-owned solar proved to be the solution that best met the utilities’ requirements. Support has been overwhelming. “It is very encouraging that the first community solar project in our state was built in western Wisconsin,” said Senator Jennifer Shilling (D-La Crosse). “Renewable energy projects like wind and solar not only improve the health and sustainability of our communities, but these energy projects have the added benefit of creating local jobs and boosting our regional economy.”
Dave Maxwell, director of marketing and communications at VEC, was pleased his cooperative would not have to deal with capital costs, permitting, and other logistical challenges. “Cooperatives are not-for-profit utilities, so capital costs present a major issue,” Maxwell said. “CEC gave VEC the benefit of not having to worry about where the money was going to come from to finance this project.”
Utilities also have the choice to develop and manage their own community solar programs by using CEC’s proven RemoteMeter™ software. Through Community Solar Platform, CEC now offers the same billing, monitoring, and marketing software that is used in its traditional, turn-key programs. If a utility would rather manage and maintain their own programs, they can do so by using the renowned software tools RemoteMeter™ Foundation and RemoteMeter™ Engagement.
The announcement of both projects received considerable coverage, and the resulting response has been strong. In fact, VEC’s 305 kW array was fully reserved in less than a month from the program’s announcement, well before the first shovel hit the ground to start construction.
Through community-owned solar, the cooperatives’ members can own solar panels just as they would if they were to install solar on their roof – the difference is that the solar panels reside in an ideally-sited utility-scale array maintained by CEC for 50 years at no additional cost to the member. The cooperatives worked with CEC to create a program that met their members’ needs, offered an alternative to self-generation, and did so under terms that work for the utility with no capital costs to the utility. “Programs like these are gaining popularity across the nation, and Midwest Energy and Vernon Electric are leading by example,” said CEC Founder and CEO Paul Spencer.
Join the campaign to bring community solar to every neighborhood in the nation. Gain access to the tools that will make your projects a success. Share the details of your developments for others to see and repeat your achievements. Contribute to your community by providing the choice of clean and affordable electricity to everyone.