Cooperatives complete 19th solar installation

Two years’ worth of planning, construction and knowledge acquisition of solar energy technology have culminated in the addition of 19 fully installed and commissioned 20-kilowatt (kW) arrays at Great River Energy member distribution cooperatives across Minnesota.

Spread throughout Minnesota, these generation resources will begin collecting energy from the sun and data to learn about the growing electric technology.

This was a collaborative effort between Great River Energy and its participating all-requirements member cooperatives to learn what it takes to plan, finance and execute distributed generation solar projects.

“There was also a need for us at the generation and transmission level to support our cooperatives in understanding the impact the addition of solar energy has on our distribution system,” said Great River Energy Project Manager Andy Bergrud.

Now the focus turns to capturing data and evaluating how solar performs in Minnesota across the cooperatives’ service territories.

Electric cooperatives have become leaders in terms of implementing solar assets into their generation portfolios, and it’s been driven by member interest. Great River Energy is no different. The cooperative is exempt from Minnesota’s mandate that utilities produce 1.5 percent of their electric power from solar by 2020, but has added a variety of solar resources in recognition of customer need.

“If Great River Energy has a regulatory or capacity need to add utility-scale solar in the future, we’d need to have staffing and resources to handle it. These projects have allowed us to acquire that ability through our investment in solar research and staff development,” Bergrud said.

Great River Energy’s board of directors approved the resolution to construct the 20-kW projects, as well as the 250-kW array at its Maple Grove, Minn., headquarters campus, in the summer of 2013 with a forecasted completion time by the end of 2015. Not only did the projects wrap up ahead of schedule, but under budget as well.

The 20-kW installations were designed, built and are now owned by Great River Energy, but a number of member cooperatives have gone further by adding their own larger community arrays and selling output subscriptions to their members.

Great River Energy will continue monitoring data output from the arrays and working with its co-ops to provide ongoing development support, as well as respond to inquiries about adding community solar.