Electric Coops Program Lets Members Get Local Solar Power

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The National Rural Utilities Cooperative Finance Corporation (CFC), Federated Rural Electric Insurance Exchange (Federated), and National Renewables Cooperative Organization (NRCO) are celebrating the first anniversary of their Solar Cooperative Community Projects (sCOOP) program, which offers electric cooperatives access to cost-effective and locally generated solar electricity for their members. 

While electric cooperatives have added solar in the past, the organizations created this program to aid cooperatives in deploying small-scale solar generation. This allows members to purchase part of the output of the solar arrays on a voluntary subscription basis.

“Over the past year we’ve seen a significant amount of interest in solar on the part of electric cooperatives,” CFC CEO Sheldon C. Petersen said. “The collaborative efforts behind the sCOOP program have enabled those co-ops interested in solar to pursue projects in a more cost-effective way.”

To date, more than 20 cooperatives have either completed or are actively developing projects through the sCOOP program, serving communities around the nation — in California, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Minnesota, Mississippi, North Carolina, and Wisconsin. Lake Region Electric Cooperative in Pelican Rapids, Minnesota, completed the first sCOOP project in December of 2013. About 15 more projects either have or will come online in 2014, with the remainder slated for next year.

The program allows cooperatives to own the solar assets while using the investment tax credit and accelerated depreciation for projects — typically not available to not-for-profit cooperatives.

“NRCO was founded on the concept of aggregating demand for renewable energy across cooperative members and sharing the costs of developing, owning and contracting for projects,” NRCO CEO Amadou Fall said. “The sCOOP program brings that philosophy to a local level on behalf of participating co-ops.”

In addition to offering economies of scale through aggregation and benefits of tax incentives through cooperative financing partnerships, sCOOP offers cooperatives the opportunity to participate in the ownership and ongoing operations of their solar array.

Through the initiative, NRCO oversees program management, supporting marketing, and legal documents. CFC provides debt capital as needed for solar projects. Federated has committed up to $6 million as tax equity investment for initial solar projects. The program is designed for projects from 100 kW to 1 MW, although larger projects can be accommodated.

“We are extremely pleased to be able to support the sCOOP program through the tax equity investments we provide,” Federated CEO Phil Irwin said. “Being able to invest in our members is an easy decision to make.”