Electric Co-ops Are Getting a Solar Boost

a guest post by Ken Whiteside, Director of Business Development at ONTILITY, LLC.

Electric Co-ops Are Getting a Solar Boost

Electric co-op members are an enormous and underdeveloped market for solar. Because they live and have businesses in mostly rural and suburban areas, they have in general ample roof and/or land for PV arrays. And because many members are involved in agricultural operations and other commercial enterprises, they have significant power requirements – certainly more than typical residential customers.

Recognizing this unmet need for renewable energy, the National Rural Utilities Cooperative Finance Corp. (CFC) is launching a pilot program with the Federated Rural Electric Insurance Exchange and the National Renewables Cooperative Organization (NRCO) that should make solar PV generation more economical for electric co-ops and their members.

The program is being developed in the midst of a continuing drop in PV technology costs and the presence of business entities that can take advantage of tax incentives, most notably investment tax credits and accelerated depreciation, which are unavailable to the member-owned co-ops. Taxable third-party solar vendors will be able to take advantage of those incentives.

For this program, NRCO will oversee program management, marketing and legal support, and CFC will provide debt capital for solar projects. Federated has committed up to $6 million as a tax equity investment for the initial solar projects."This collaborative program will provide electric cooperatives with a streamlined process to develop solar energy projects in a more cost-effective way," says CFC CEO Sheldon C. Petersen."Our organizations will be able to provide an electric cooperative interested in developing one or more solar power projects with all of the essential services needed to do so," says NRCO CEO Amadou Fall. "Basic project concepts can be expanded and scaled up depending on the interest of cooperative memberships and as more projects develop."

It has been said consistently for the past two or three years that the solar industry is best promoted by a combination of technological advances, progressive policy-making and innovative financial arrangements. The technology has certainly been doing its part as evidenced by the steady decrease in equipment prices. And progressive policies have been put in place that make possible the development of new financial arrangements. The result, in this case, is the expansion of solar into a previously underserved market.

Ken Whiteside photo Ken Whiteside has been a fan of solar energy for decades. His first hands-on experience was installing solar on off-grid houses around Telluride, Colorado in the 1990’s (summer in the San Juan Mtns. - somebody had to do it). From his home in Austin, Ken writes and works for widespread adoption of solar electricity, smart energy production and use, and sustainability.

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