St. Croix Electric Cooperative members commit to 103 kW solar array

HAMMOND – With the support of the St. Croix Electric Cooperative (SCEC) Board of Directors and members, a 103 kilowatt (kW) member solar garden will be constructed at the Co-op in Spring 2014.

“Sunflower 1” will be the first solar array of its kind by a Wisconsin electric cooperative. With 120 members subscribed to the output of the array’s 206 units, the project will be paid-in-full prior to construction. Member subscriptions ranged from one, 500-watt production unit, up to five units. Participating members will receive monthly energy credits for the output of their unit(s) throughout the life of the array.

“The member response for Sunflower 1 has been outstanding – both from members who subscribed and members who were unable to subscribe, but expressed their support for a local, renewable energy project in St. Croix County,” said SCEC President and CEO Mark Pendergast. “Through a program called sCOOP – facilitated by the National Renewable Cooperative Organization (NRCO) and Federated Rural Electric Insurance Exchange (Federated) – Sunflower 1 will complement the renewable energy portfolio of Dairyland Power Cooperative (SCEC’s wholesale power provider).”

Plans for Sunflower 1 began in September 2013 after an announcement by NRCO established sCOOP: Solar Cooperative Community Projects. The initiative was made available to distribution co-ops, such as St. Croix Electric. It allows Federated to capture the tax credits for a renewable energy project (something a not-for-profit cooperative is unable to do); this savings was then incorporated into a lower subscription fee for participating members. In August 2013, Dairyland Power also amended the parameters of a policy regarding distributed generation systems for its members so distribution cooperatives can develop member projects, such as Sunflower 1.

Sunflower 1 is ideal for members who are unable to install a larger array on their property due to aesthetic, topographic and/or financial constraints. The member solar garden will be located at St. Croix Electric along County Road J and members’ one-time payment of $1,350 per unit covers all expenses for the first 20 years of the array (e.g., maintenance, insurance). Once commissioned, Sunflower 1 is expected to produce more than 150,000 kWh of electricity annually – enough to power 13 SCEC members’ homes each year of operation.

“In November 2013, we asked members via bill insert if they had interest in subscribing to a member solar garden. At that time, we had hopes of building an 88.5 kW (88,500 watts) array,” Pendergast said. “After monthly articles in the member newsletter and five information sessions in January and February, member support surpassed that  goal and expanded the project an extra two rows of panels.”

“We are pleased with the member support for Sunflower 1, but the 120 participating members comprise a small percentage of our 10,500 member accounts. That is why this opportunity with NRCO and sCOOP is ideal. Members who want to subscribe to a local, renewable energy project will receive energy credits for the electricity their unit or units generate, but the overall membership base is not burdened with the construction and ownership costs,” SCEC Member Services Manager Jerry Van Someren said.

“Cooperatives want to be solution providers for their members,” NRCO CEO Amadou Fall said in a September 2013 news release. “sCOOP evolved to meet a community need in a cost-effective way.”

In preparation for construction, SCEC has signed a contract with tenKsolar in Minneapolis to manufacture and deliver the Sunflower 1 panels.

“Not only is tenKsolar a local company, but they have the most efficient solar panels on the market,” Van Someren said. “SCEC wants to ensure members receive the best quality product and tenKsolar is it. Their reputation within the industry also continues to grow via work they have contracted for numerous renewable energy projects around  the Twin Cities.”