Community Solar Is Surging, Says NRECA

By year-end 2017, the total solar energy capacity of America’s  electric cooperatives will be five times what it was two years ago, according to data released on March 9 by the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association.

The NRECA advocates for more than 900 U.S. consumer-owned, not-for-profit electric cooperatives, public power districts, and public utility districts. The organization calls itself “a leader in community solar.” Indeed, NRECA claims, more than 70 percent of utility-sponsored community solar programs are co-op programs.

This year, the organization said, the nation’s co-ops are on pace to add 480 MW of solar, which would bring their total capacity to 873 MW. This more than quadruples the 180 MW reached in 2015 and represents a 20-fold increase over the 37 MW attained in 2010.

In addition, over the last two years, cooperatives have expanded their solar footprint from 34 states to 44 states. Among states where co-ops have been actively developing solar, Georgia ranks first with a total of 122 MW, followed by New Mexico, Hawaii, Colorado, Arizona, Maryland and North Carolina.

Electric cooperatives continue to aggressively pursue solar as an energy source and are the leaders in the community solar,” said NRECA CEO Jim Matheson, adding, “Co-ops across the nation are laboratories of innovation and are responsive to member needs as they work to power and empower millions of American families and businesses.”

The group conducted a nationwide survey in December 2016 and January 2017, in order to identify the factors driving members’ decisions to offer or support solar programs, including community solar, utility-owned solar, and rooftop installations.

Sixty-eight percent of respondents said they were motivated by a desire to increase consumer satisfaction; 59 percent cited consumer demand for solar offerings; 43 percent pointed to the decline in the cost of solar development.

“Just in the last year, nine … cooperatives announced they will be pursuing solar development. We fully expect that number to increase this year,” Matheson said.

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