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turbine on her property. After weighing cost and benefits of installing and maintaining these electrical generating devices, Brown—a longtime member of Tri-County Electric Cooperative (TCEC)—concluded this option was not the most suitable for her family. The key to her quest came when TCEC made the announcement it would open a community solar project adjacent to its Hooker, Okla., headquarters. Brown was thrilled. “The more energy independent we are, the better off we are,” Brown said. “I think it’s very for-


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ward-thinking of TCEC to initiate a community solar project. I like the fact that I don’t have to worry about the costs, maintenance and insurance of these devices. It’s a sensible plan to do this at their facility and a great opportunity for members.”


ianna Brown of Guymon, Okla., is a local insurance agent who is keenly interested in using renewable fuel sources for electric power generation. While doing her homework on alter- native forms of energy, Brown considered installing rooftop solar panels or a small wind


Harnessing Power from the Sun The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) report- ed solar is the most abundant energy resource on Earth, with 173,000 terawatts of solar energy strik- ing the Earth continuously. This solar energy in- tensity accounts for more than 10,000 times the world’s total energy use. According to a 2014 report by the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA), more solar generat- ing capacity was installed in the U.S. during the last two years than in the previous 30 years. SEIA reported Oklahoma ranks 45th nationally in installed solar capacity, with 1.5 megawatts (MW) or enough to power 170 homes. Still, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) ranks Oklahoma 7th in the nation in solar power potential as compared to other states, based on NREL’s Sun Index.


Nationwide, solar power is progressively seen in


a new light. In 2014, the percentage of electricity generated in the U.S. by solar accounted for 0.4 percent. This number is moving upward, with the Energy Information Administration (EIA) estimat- ing growth in utility-scale solar power to average 0.8 percent of total U.S. electricity generation in 2016. Declining costs of photovoltaic (PV) technolo-


gy, enhanced efficiencies, increased federal tax incentives, and favorable economies of scale have contributed to the growth of solar projects


nationwide. At the federal level, projects built through 2016 are eligible for a 30 percent invest- ment tax credit. Combined, these factors have resulted in solar power generation becoming more competitive with fossil-fuel generation. DOE re- ported the average price for a utility-scale PV proj- ect has dropped from about 21 cents per kilowatt-hour in 2010 to 11 cents per kilowatt-hour at the end of 2013. EIA reported the average U.S. electricity price is about 12 cents per kilowatt-hour. In addition, interest in solar has heightened with consumers’ desire to add cleaner forms of energy to the electric power mix they consume. Rural electric cooperatives nationwide are lead- ers on the solar power front with nearly 240 MWs of solar capacity online in 34 states, according to the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association. Cooperative solar projects are con- sumer-owned and are coming to fruition based on feedback from member-owners. Take the first co- operative community solar project in Oklahoma, for example: the upcoming 4,000-panel commu- nity solar array by TCEC is a result of co-ops tak- ing time to listen to their members and providing innovative solutions.


Community Solar Projects A community solar project, also known as solar farm or solar garden, refers to the arrangement of PV panels collectively working as a single unit,


creating an array. Using economies of scale, the per panel cost of a community array is typically more affordable than individual panels installed on residential properties. On June 1, 2015, TCEC announced its partner- ship with Today’s Power, Inc.—a wholly-owned subsidiary of Arkansas Electric Cooperative Corporation, Inc. (AECI) —for the development of a 1 MW solar array that will sit on 5 acres of the co-op’s property in Hooker. The community solar project, expected to come online in January 2016, is the first of its kind in Oklahoma. Chief Operating Officer Zac Perkins said the coopera- tive’s 2015 survey showed 68 percent of TCEC’s membership is interested in renewable energy. “Adding solar to our power mix keeps us rele-


vant,” Perkins said. “Our membership wants us to be their energy partner, they look for us to provide solutions, and if we don’t, they will go elsewhere.” The cooperative’s board, which is comprised of member-elected trustees, supported TCEC in the decision to invest in solar. “When members said they were interested, we knew pursuing renewable energy options for TCEC was the right thing to do,” said Joe Mayer, president of the TCEC board. “We fully support- ed TCEC’s management team in their efforts to move forward with TCEC Community Solar be- cause it benefits all our members.”


Continued on Page 8 OCTOBER 2015 7


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