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WFEC Pine Ridge utility-scale site. Photo by John Toland

TCEC Community Solar based in Hooker, Okla.

members who want to participate with solar energy without having to install equipment on their properties,” Smith said. “It’s a no-risk pro- gram. There are members who prefer we pro- vide the project because they trust what we do as opposed to them dealing with third-party companies. It’s about being trusted by our membership.” Smith said the project will also entail daily data-tracking performance of power generation from the solar panels that will be posted to ECOEC’s website for public viewing. Subscriptions are available on a first-come, first- served basis. Smith said the ability to add a community solar project is a result of coopera- tives coming together to accomplish a common goal.

“WFEC created a buying power in the mar- ketplace that saves all member-systems money. Had we tried to do this individually, we would not be able to offer the program we offer to our member-owners today,” Smith said. “When we work together, we can accomplish tasks that are not as feasible for us to do individually—just like it was 80 years ago when pioneers came together to form electric cooperatives.” With a similar approach, Southwest Rural Electric Association (SWREA) is offering two community solar project sites for their mem- bers: one in Frederick, Okla., and one in Vernon, Texas. SWREA Chief Executive Officer Mike Hagy said offering community solar is part of the co-op’s strategic plan. “We have decided strategically that we want

to be our members’ energy source,” Hagy said. “Whether that is in the form of solar, wind, geothermal or generators, we want our mem- bers to come to us for any energy question they have.”

Harnessing the Sun’s Power According to WFEC’s Toland, solar panels

are intentionally positioned to harness the sun’s power. Toland explained utility-scale projects use PV panels mounted on movable frames that


will track the sun on a minute-by-minute basis to maximize the power generated. Utility-scale sites are based on single-axis tracker panels and can tilt up to 45 degrees to generate more ener- gy output. Panels at tracker sites rotate to max- imize the collected solar radiation. This setup varies from community solar site panels, which are in a fixed, stationary position, angled to re- ceive maximum exposure to the sun’s rays. According to Toland, 19 solar panels in a row make up a string. Each solar panel is about 3-feet by 6-feet and has the capacity to generate 315 to 320 watts. Solar panels begin generating power in direct current (DC), which goes to an inverter and is changed to alternating current (AC). Toland explained this current travels to a transformer, which “steps up” the voltage to the appropriate cooperative voltage. Power from the community solar projects connect directly to the distribution cooperatives’ powerlines. With community solar, the power generated by a given farm benefits members of one specific electric cooperative. For utility-scale projects which are connected to the bulk electric trans- mission system, the power generated benefits all member-systems of the wholesale power supplier, in this case, WFEC and its member co-ops.

The Pros and Cons of Solar WFEC Chief Executive Officer Gary Roulet

points out the intermittent nature of solar pow- er. Much like other renewable sources such as wind and hydro, solar power is not constantly generating. Since the sun doesn’t always shine, solar generation must be backed up by genera- tion sources fueled by natural gas and coal that can be called upon when needed. Roulet ex- plained solar power matches somewhat more effectively with peak power time periods during the day as compared to wind generation. For example, in hot summer months, peak demand occurs between 3 p.m. and 7 p.m. While wind generation peaks in the overnight hours, solar power generation peaks in the afternoon, with

its best generating capacity between 2 p.m. and 3 p.m. It is a balancing act for utilities to deploy renewable and fossil fuel sources in an efficient and affordable manner to meet consumer de- mands 24/7. “There is a load shape or curve that must be

met every day. Standing behind that load is some type of fossil fuel generator, either natural gas or coal. If solar sites don’t produce energy, there must be an ongoing plant ensuring that power is flowing to meet consumer demand,” Roulet said. “Renewables deliver when they can, but fossil-fuel generators need to generate constantly to match up total power generated to total power used by load in each instant. Maintenance requirements of fossil fuel gener- ators is going up because of the fluctuation when renewable energy doesn’t deliver.” Toland expects WFEC solar projects will an-

nually produce 20 to 30 percent of their capac- ity, but not full output due to limitations in solar power generation such as weather condi- tions, cloudy days, evening and night time hours. Currently, there is no affordable avail- able technology for storing energy; power is consumed as it is generated. “We will likely not see excess solar generation

that cannot be used to serve consumers,” Toland said. For WFEC officials, adding solar power en-

sures fuel diversity and boosts reliability and affordability. “This is all part of putting together an eco- nomical and reliable system for our members,” Toland said. “We run studies every year to de- termine what our current and future power re- quirements are. We have an obligation to serve. In some cases, not having power is a life-threat- ening situation. Adding solar produces no emis- sions, adds diversity to our fuel source mix and helps us to accomplish our mission of serving members throughout the state.” For more information about community so-

lar power projects, contact your local electric cooperative.

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