As a Consumer, How Can I Influence My Co-op Electric Utility?

How can I influence my co-op utility company to stop embracing coal, to believe renewable energy has a place in their power purchased portfolio and to start implementing and offering such programs as ‘voluntary load reduction’ programs? – Bryan P, Colorado Springs, CO

Both cooperatives and municipal utilities are owned by the “ratepayers” but have different methods for input and histories of development. Cooperatives elect their Boards of Directors from their ratepayer pool. There are basically two kinds of electric cooperatives; generation cooperatives, which in the United States represent the large majority of electric coops and predominantly use coal-fired electric generation. A smaller portion of cooperatives are ‘distribution cooperatives’ that distribute the electricity to rural ratepayers and they must buy their electric power from the generation cooperatives. There in lies your problem – there is little incentive for cooperatives to change the status-quo, though there are some fine examples. The National Rural Electric Cooperative Association (NRECA) states: NRECA supports power developed from renewable resources that naturally replenish, utilize residual materials, or recycle waste. Renewable resources include hydro (both low head and high head), landfill methane, geothermal generation, manure digesters, wind, solar, biomass, wood and others. The use of these resources can be beneficial to our environment and assist rural economies throughout much of the U.S. (NRECA Member Resolution 05-G-1) According to the Environmental Energy Study Institute, rural electric cooperatives have a strong history of the use of renewables: For wind: Basin Electric (ND) purchased 80 MW of wind and 2 MW owned, Great River Energy (MN) 19 MW purchased and 2 MW owned, Sunflower Electric (KS) 30 MW purchased, Cornbelt Power (IA) 19 MW purchased, Rosebud Sioux Tribe has 750 kW of wind owned, Kotzebue Electric of Alaska has 650 + kW owned, Dairyland Power (WI) 6 MW purchased, East River (MN) 2 MW purchased, and Tri-State (CO) 7 MW owned. Dairyland Power Cooperative, Wisconsin, has signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Microgy Cogeneration Systems, Inc, to build a number of animal waste-to-electric projects. These would be located at large farms or feedlots. The farmer would own the facilities (built by Microgry) and sell methane gas to Dairyland. Dairyland would install and operate the electrical facilities, producing electricity for the grid. Dairyland expects to install 25 MW over the next 5 years. A number of cooperatives have installed Land Fill Methane Projects throughout the U.S. Included are: Pacific Northwest Generating Corp – Portland, Oregon, 2200 kW of diesel generation using LFM, East Kentucky Power Cooperative is constructing 15 MW at 3 sites., Wabash Valley Power Association has several LFM sites Certainly there are applications where solar energy competes favorably with grid-supplied electricity. Many cooperatives sell or lease PV stock water pumps to ranchers and farmers. This is frequently more economical than running a lengthy distribution line to serve a stock well. And some cooperatives also offer PV systems to off-grid homes, charging a monthly fee to maintain the equipment. A 2001 Texas Photovoltaics Coalition Report stated that 4 rural electric cooperatives within the state have installed 65 highly cost effective solar electric systems representing over 30 kW. 57 of the state’s 75 cooperatives participate in the program and several have a waiting list of customers desiring PV services. And US Department of Agriculture’s Rural Utility Service (RUS) granted a loan to the Navajo Tribal utility Authority (an RUS borrower) for construction of PV systems on 350 homes. Additionally, thirteen Georgia electric cooperatives formed Green Power Electric Membership Corp to buy renewable energy for sale to their customers by buying 13 MW from 4 landfill gas generation units. They intend to expand their purchases with energy from wind, solar and hydro. Last Mile Electric Cooperative in Washington consisting of 11 cooperatives, 2 munis, 2 PUD and 4 non-utilities, and Great River Energy, located in Elk River, Minnesota have also initiated renewable energy programs. The best way to convince your electric cooperative is to ask ratepayers to sign a petition. Present to the Cooperative Board of Directors what other cooperative utilities are doing. If the Cooperative has a financial board, audit review team, or chief operating officer, ask them to carry out activity based cost accounting determining how much line wiring or ditching costs are added to powering remote applications – many times it is immediately cost effective to use distributed energy rather than stringing or ditching lines. The same can be said for other load reduction and energy efficiency strategies. The bottom line – make your wishes known and enlist your other cooperative members and Board representatives.
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Scott, founder and president of The Stella Group, Ltd., in Washington, DC, is the Chair of the Steering Committee of the Sustainable Energy Coalition and serves on the Business Council for Sustainable Energy, and The Solar Foundation. The Stella Group, Ltd., a strategic marketing and policy firm for clean distributed energy users and companies using renewable energy, energy efficiency and storage. Sklar is an Adjunct Professor at The George Washington University teaching two unique interdisciplinary courses on sustainable energy, and is an Affiliated Professor of CATIE, the graduate university based in Costa Rica. . On June 19, 2014, Scott Sklar was awarded the prestigious The Charles Greely Abbot Award by the American Solar Energy Society (ASES) and on April 26, 2014 was awarded the Green Patriot Award by George Mason University in Virginia.

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