By now, we have all heard about the fad that is solar energy, and for those near Rockford, they may even pass by some panels set up by Wright-Hennepin Cooperative Electric Association (WH) when driving through town. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, it is expected that there will be an increase of 15.4 GW of solar capacity to the grid this year, but many folks interested in solar energy don’t have the space, don’t have adequate sunlight, or they don’t have the resources to cover the upfront cost to get their own panels.
“Installing solar comes with a need for space that is open to plenty of sunshine and an understanding that it will require an upfront investment… it has to be the right fit,” said Bob Sandberg, WH’s vice president of Power Supply and Business Development. “We understand that not every member has the option or the desire to put solar at their residence, so we try to craft and develop programs that provides multiple participation alternatives for our members.”
He added, “We knew there was this need at the very beginning stages of renewables, and so being an industry leader like Wright-Hennepin has always been, WH was one of the first cooperatives to develop and offer a community solar option.”
Wright Hennepin offered its first community solar project in 2013, developing a total of four projects that members participated in through either upfront capital purchase “buy in” or through long term participation contracts. Wright Hennepin also worked with the city of Rockford on two solar projects that support the city’s needs. All of WH’s community solar projects are located at the WH headquarters or along Highway 55 close to Rockford. In total, WH constructed over 500 kW of solar.
Sandberg said the first wave of interested members were primarily intrigued and motivated by societal and environmental reasons, but overtime more members based their decision on economics. Just as members needs have evolved, WH’s program offerings have evolved. With the community solar projects fully subscribed at this point, WH members now have the option of participating in the “Solar Choice” or “Renewable Choice” programs.
The difference between the Solar Choice and Renewable Choice options boils down to a difference in structure. Solar Choice allows members to secure a flat rate on a set amount of energy for a set period. This program allows members to realize the attributes of solar without the investment and impact to one’s residence that comes with home installed solar.
Renewable Choice allows members to purchase “green attributes” to offset their consumption.
“By participating in renewable choice, you’re supporting the purchase of renewable energy through renewable energy credits,” said Sandberg, “For $1 a month, a WH member can secure green attributes covering 100% of energy consumption for an average WH member.”
“For folks who may be resistant to renewable energy sources, like solar, like wind ... this transition to carbon free resources, is occurring,” said Sandberg. “It’s occurring across the energy industry in the US and across the county. Given the focus on environmental issues and the support being provided by regulators and governments, the adoption of renewables in the utility industry is only going to continue to grow.”
He continued, “The utility industry is ready for the advancement of these intermittent renewable resources. As long as the adoption of renewables is managed to assure grid reliability, these resources will provide additional diversification to the generation mix. And for somebody who’s supplying power, like Wright-Hennepin, we want a diverse, solid power supply — one that is made up of a rich mix of resources that includes both renewables and baseload generation.”
Sandberg said that reliability is key to WH, and the key will be to assure that the power supply mix provides a sustainable and dependable grid.
If interested in learning more about programs at WH — or if you want to take the leap and put up your very own solar panels — be sure to do ample research before proceeding. Contact a member service representative at WH. Resources like the staff at WH are extremely helpful in understanding the tangible impacts of investing in solar, as well as some of the more technical questions on interconnecting solar and just how much energy solar can be produced here in our Minnesotan tundra.
Learn more about WH’s commitment to renewable energy sources at bit.ly/3a7BXKy