Five electric distribution cooperatives in Texas have signed agreements to purchase 7 megawatts of distribution-scale solar generation, providing an increased supply of cost-effective and clean energy to their members while increasing local system resilience.
Co-ops are leading in solar because they have a mission to serve their members — and many members want renewables. An August 2018 study by the Rocky Mountain Institute found declines in renewable energy pricing are creating opportunities for electric cooperatives in the U.S. Mountain West to deliver cost savings to their members.
All of the arrays are scheduled to begin operation by June 2020. The buyers include Bartlett Electric Cooperative, Comanche Electric Cooperative, Heart of Texas Electric Cooperative, PenTex Energy and South Plains Electric Cooperative.
The projects will be developed, constructed, owned and operated by Canadian renewable energy developer Saturn Power Corporation, which will sell energy to the cooperatives through 20-year power purchase agreements. Saturn Power has developed and contracted 200 MW of wind, solar and battery storage projects, and was selected through a competitive bidding process that Rocky Mountain Institute managed as the buyers’ representative.
The solar arrays for each of the buyers will be sited on the cooperatives’ distribution systems, thereby avoiding Energy Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) demand charges and generation capacity charges from their generation and transmission providers. Considering these demand-charge savings in addition to the low price of the solar energy produced, RMI believes the portfolio of solar systems will provide more total value to the buyers than a utility-scale solar installation would.
“Developing these solar energy installations makes a lot of sense for our members,” Bryan Lightfoot, general manager and CEO of Bartlett Electric Cooperative, said. “Not only will we be providing more clean, locally sourced energy to our community and hardening our grid, but we expect to save money over the life of these projects by becoming more self-sufficient.”
“We are very excited about this project and look forward to forging strong, long-term relationships with the electric cooperatives,” said Doug Wagner, president and CEO of Saturn Power. “Saturn Power continues to expand its reach in the US renewables market and we are proud to be able to help bring clean, affordable and renewable power to the residents of Texas.”
RMI is working with communities, utilities, corporate buyers and solar developers to build a more transparent, standardized approach to help expand market access for distribution-scale solar installations. The organization is also continually expanding its network to both raise awareness of the benefits of this technology, and to simplify the process to help stakeholders determine how distribution-scale solar can help lower electricity costs and bring more clean and resilient energy supply onto the grid.
“It has been a pleasure working with this group of dedicated cooperatives to develop a common understanding of the value that on-site solar generation can provide in the ERCOT market,” Jason Prince, a senior associate at RMI who helped coordinate the agreement, said. “This first tranche of contracts executed pursuant to our request for proposal process sets an excellent precedent for additional procurements.”