Bringing solar to the masses is getting easier as new models and ideas emerge. Earlier this week, the Vermont Electric Cooperative (VEC) and and the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association (NRECA) announced that its customers will soon have a chance to purchase power from what will be the state’s largest PV system. The 5 megawatt project is a first-of-its-kind in the United States for utility coops; it represents a local and national collaboration.
VEC said the model, supported in part by a $4.8 million SunShot Initiative grant, is designed to identify and address barriers to utility-scale solar installations. VEC is the first of 15 electric coops across the U.S. to move forward with a project under the grant. The VEC project will receive $3.6 million through the SunShot Initiative and $1.2 million from the NRECA, the National Rural Utility Cooperative Finance Corporation (CFC), Federated Rural Electric Insurance Exchange, PowerSecure International, Inc. and the participating cooperatives, including VEC.
VEC, which serves about 32,000 members, said that cooperatively-owned solar projects (think community solar gardens, but owned by the coop) benefit all customers, including those whose homes are not properly sited for solar, those who rent their homes or office spaces, or customers that want solar but can’t afford to install on-site.
“This is exactly the kind of innovation we need, as Vermont leads the country in renewable energy development,” said Gov. Peter Shumlin (D). “We’re helping to address climate change, creating jobs and spurring economic development, in addition to helping to bring down the cost of solar power in our state and across the country. This project is a win on all fronts.”
The coop has aggressively moved to meet its clean energy goals, according to VEC CEO David Hallquist. “We have been at the forefront of energy innovation in Vermont; we were early adopters of Smart Meters and deployed before any other utility, and we are going to meet Vermont’s goal of 20 percent renewable energy by 2020, 3 years ahead of schedule by 2017.”
“We can’t stop there. With this Next Generation Solar Project, we will bring solar power to more of our coop’s customers, at a lower cost, and at competitive market rates,” Hallquist added. “By collaborating with other coops across the country, the Department of Energy and NRECA, our lessons learned will benefit all customers of cooperative utilities.”
The project will focus on using standardized engineering designs to minimize costs. To help further reduce costs, a volume purchasing agreement through NRECA’s National Discounts Program will be used, resulting in a number of pre-packaged business plans and financing options through the CFC. The project will also target a 25 percent labor cost reduction.