|National Rural Electric Cooperative Assn. graph shows solar use at co-ops that generate electricity.|
Rural electric cooperatives have been relatively slow to move away from fossil fuels to renewable energy sources, but they are catching up. They have embraced wind for some time; now a March report from the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association shows solar is projected to be part of the mix next year at more than half of the co-ops that generate electricity for customer-member cooperatives. The solar share is less at those distribution co-ops (see graph below).
One example of a generating co-op that is gradually embracing solar is Old Dominion Electric Cooperative in central Virginia, written up by Elizabeth McGowan of Energy News Network.
Old Dominion's attitude toward solar has changed due to "tumbling prices, forceful prodding from their distribution brethren, and progressive top leadership," McGowan writes. "For years, solar advocates and utility watchdogs have called out co-ops as laggards on the energy transition front. Critics say co-ops’ three main shortcomings are being too coal-dependent; hamstrung by fossil-fuel-reliant, long-term contracts that can stretch for decades; and failing to deliver on the promise of democracy at the foundation of their governance model because so few members vote for boards."
|Oklahoma Electric Cooperative solar farm (OEC photo)|
In some cases co-ops are following state mandates to increase renewable energy sources. They have done that mostly through wind power. NRECA says 19 percent of its member co-ops' retail electricity came from renewables in 2019, the latest year for which figures are available. It didn't have a solar percentage handy, but stay tuned.
|NRECA graph shows solar use at cooperatives that distribute electricity from a generating co-op or other source.|