Dragonfly Solar and SolarWorld Expand Midwest Solar Through Utility Cooperatives


Dragonfly Solar and SolarWorld announce plans to develop a 517 kW solar array for four electric utility cooperatives in the Midwest. The project is the nation’s first and largest to be developed under a model of joint ownership among utility cooperatives.

The Midwest has been getting some solar attention as efforts to produce clean energy there are stepped up. Figuring prominently in this is Minnesota, which Greentech Media identified last year as one of the top hidden solar markets to watch.

Sure enough, we keep hearing about new developments in the state. Today, Dragonfly Solar, a commercial solar developer based in Lakeville, Minnesota, and SolarWorld, the largest U.S. solar manufacturer since 1975, announced their new partnership to develop a 517 kW solar array for four electric utility cooperatives in the Midwest. The project is the nation’s first and largest to be developed under a model of joint ownership among utility cooperatives, exemplifying how cooperatives can maximize their clean-power investment.

The solar array will be owned and managed by Minnesota-Three, an entity jointly owned by Freeborn-Mower Cooperative Services of Albert Lea, Minnesota, People’s Energy Cooperative of Oronoco, Minnesota, and Tri-County Cooperative of Rushford, Minnesota — all utility cooperatives whose member-owners have joined forces to curb energy costs. Dairyland Power of La Crosse, Wisconsin, the cooperative power wholesaler for the region, has signed an agreement to purchase the power generated by the solar array.


This is one of several solar projects in the Midwest involving utility cooperatives. “Utility cooperatives are leading the way in making clean power an integral part of their energy portfolios,” said Mukesh Dulani, U.S. president of SolarWorld. “We’re proud to support these uniquely American enterprises with an American-made solar solution to ensure their customers reap the benefits of sustainable energy for decades to come.”


Dairyland Power selected Dragonfly Solar, a SolarWorld Platinum Installer, from a pool of more than 60 applicants to design, procure, and construct the project. The installation will feature more than 1800 of SolarWorld’s high-performance, American-made solar panels manufactured at the company’s U.S. headquarters in Oregon. Construction of the solar facility is scheduled to begin this spring in Oronoco; upon completion, the array will be interconnected to People’s Energy Cooperative’s power delivery system.


“We are excited to have an opportunity to partner with a group of utilities that continue to demonstrate their commitment to their customer base by taking steps to complement their existing energy-delivery systems with solar,” said Steve Peters, president of Dragonfly Solar. “We appreciate their confidence in our company.”


“Going it alone on a project like this would not have been possible,” said Elaine Garry, president and CEO of People’s Energy Cooperative, on behalf of the three utility cooperatives comprising Minnesota-Three. “Electric co-ops have a rich history of working together, whether in restoring power following a storm or providing additional programs or services to their memberships. We couldn’t be more pleased about working together to benefit our mutual members by bringing renewable energy to this area of Minnesota.”


The project was funded in part by one of the largest solar PV grants awarded in 2013 by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Rural Energy for America Program (REAP). The program helps small businesses, farmers, and ranchers in rural communities to purchase and install renewable-energy equipment. Dragonfly Solar prepared the project’s successful REAP application.


While the panels will be made in America, SolarWorld is a German company and has been in the news this year for its petition to impose tariffs on solar hardware from Taiwan. The company received harsh criticism for this move, which many didn’t consider supportive of U.S. solar. Most jobs here, critics say, are in areas like installation, which have benefitted from lower panel prices.


Still, it’s good to see more solar being developed in the heart of the U.S., with both American labor and American-made parts. We look forward to more solar progress in the Midwest.