The US Energy Department this week unveiled a new version of its PV System Toolkit — a complete package of development tools designed to make it easier for cooperative utility companies in rural areas to transition to renewable solar power. “This resource is a ready-to-use set of standard engineering designs, financing models, templates, tools, and plans, and its suite of materials offers best practices designed to reduce solar adoption costs and help co-ops across the country navigate the many ways in which they can integrate solar into their asset portfolios,” according to the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association.
America’s 800 rural electric co-ops provide power to only 12% of all Americans, but those people occupy 70% of the total area of the United States. Because they are non-profit organizations, they are not eligible for the sizable federal solar power incentives available to for profit companies like Duke Energy, Xcel Energy and the other large energy companies who serve urban and suburban America. That makes lowering the costs of installing solar power by rural co-ops essential to the spread of renewable power resources to all people.
The PV System Toolkit is supported by the Energy Department’s SunShot solar initiative. It is interesting that the new head of the department, Rick Perry, is a Trump appointee but is also an advocate of renewable energy. As governor of Texas, Perry was also a strong advocate for renewables, especially the wind energy resources that are rapidly becoming the mainstay of new power generation in the Lone Star state.
“NRECA is engaging hundreds of co-ops and thousands of co-op staffers and representatives as they consider offering solar power as an option for their members. From 2015 to 2016, 3,000 representatives from 347 co-ops — more than a third of all co-ops and more than half of all generation transmission co-ops — participated in NRECA’s PV System Toolkit webinars.” Thousands of co-op board members and employees are also engaging with the PV System Toolkit and solar training sessions for co-ops.
In this week’s announcement, the Energy Department said, “America’s electric cooperatives expect to double their current solar capacity by the end of 2017, adding more than 480 megawatts of solar for a total capacity of 873 MW nationwide.” So far, NRECA has provided support for utility scale solar projects to communities in 15 states. In all, a total of 23 megawatts of solar energy have been installed as a result of its efforts.