Smart Grid, The Issues

Taking the Spotlight: Solar Energy

By Paul Wesslund Published: March 17th, 2014

Solar energy took center stage in a recent forum focusing on the risks and awards of distributed generation at NRECA’s 72nd Annual Meeting.

(L-R) Curtis Trivitt, Nelle Hotchkiss and Lynn Thompson were on a panel at the 2014 NRECA annual meeting. (Photo By: Luis Gomez Photos)

(L-R) Curtis Trivitt, Nelle Hotchkiss and Lynn Thompson were on a panel at the 2014 NRECA annual meeting. (Photo By: Luis Gomez Photos)

Distributed generation in the form of wind, landfill gas, and cogeneration got a mention, but solar by far is attracting the most attention from cooperatives and legislators, a panel of experts told the co-op crowd.

The panelists also informed co-ops that distributed generation is coming. They were told that it is best to get in front of it and that co-ops should develop their own DG projects.

Nelle Hotchkiss, senior vice president, corporate relations, with the North Carolina Electric Membership Cooperative, urged co-ops to develop expertise and messages on solar because of its broad appeal. While environmentalists promote solar as renewable energy, conservative politicians see free market and private enterprise appeals, she said.

Hotchkiss showed an animated video produced by the North Carolina statewide that describes the advantages, disadvantages, and complicated issues raised by use of solar energy.

Hotchkiss emphasized the value of spending time and resources on videos and other clear and simple ways of reaching members and legislators with distributed generation messages that can be difficult to explain.

“Anything you can do to talk about what you are doing for consumers is very important,” she said.

Curtis Trivitt, senior vice president, energy services at CoServ Electric in Corinth, Texas, emphasized the importance of developing rates that reflect accurate costs to the co-op, and then explaining those rates in ways that can be understood by members.

Trivitt described working with a developer of a sustainable housing development who was surprised to learn that solar electricity would cost more, rather than less.

Lynn Thompson, president and CEO of Eau Claire Energy Cooperative in Fall Creek, Wis., said his co-op’s “goal is to become a trusted, go-to resource” that is seen as supporting the interests of the members.

Eau Claire Energy Co-op is launching Community Solar, a Cooperative Research Network project that will build a solar installation that co-op members will support by buying into it. Thompson described it as a way for interested members to support solar without penalizing those who don’t want to pay the extra costs.

Panelists encouraged co-ops to review the rates charged for distributed generation, acknowledging the difficulty of balancing fairness to all members, and the true costs of distributed generation, including appropriate demand and energy charges.

They noted innovative ways to look at true costs, including the value of different forms of distributed generation, or the cost of increased transmission requirements. They said advanced metering systems could facilitate the design of those kinds of rate and accounting considerations.

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