Appalachian EC announces community solar project

Appalachian Electric Cooperative is proud to be leading the effort to help folks take advantage of the benefits of solar power and join with others who are supporters of clean, renewable energy.

Community-based solar power is an idea whose time has come, according to AEC General Manager Greg Williams: “It’s all about leveraging the economies of scale to improve affordability. Our ‘Co-op Community Solar’ program will make it possible for our residential and commercial members to reap all the benefits of solar generation—including both cost-effectiveness and environmental sustainability—without having to hassle with the challenges involved with installing photovoltaic panels and the ongoing maintenance costs required to keep them performing at maximum capacity. It’s also a powerful feeling to be a part of something with positive environmental impacts that extend much farther than those of any single individual.”

Construction work will begin this fall on a 1.373-megawatt community solar facility to be located on a seven-acre site adjacent to AEC’s New Market Substation, just off of Highway 11E. It will feature a total of 9,468 photovoltaic panels, each of which will be rated at 145 watts. The project is scheduled for completion in late 2016 and the facility is expected to generate 1,804,000 kilowatt-hours in the first year of operation. Based on average residential kWh use by members throughout AEC’s service area, Co-op Community Solar will produce enough clean, renewable energy to supply all the power needs of approximately 115 homes for an entire year.

The new initiative is made possible in part through a grant provided by the Tennessee Valley Authority, and is one of only two pilot programs to receive this funding in the entire Valley region. The Cooperative will be relying on Knoxville-based contractor ARiES Energy for project construction and will turn to the National Renewable Cooperative Organization to assist with project management.

Project costs will be fully funded through revenue generated via a purchased power agreement with TVA. There will be no impact to AEC’s retail rates as a result of Co-op Community Solar.

“This is one of those concepts that just makes so much sense on many different levels,” says Williams. “By coming together as a community of co-op members to support solar generation, cost per watt will be less than for an individual installation and energy output is maximized. Plus, the benefits of community solar are available to those who rent or homeowners whose properties are shaded or whose roofs are not well-suited for the installation of solar panels. Here at the co-op, we are really eager to bring this resource to these folks.”

During the first quarter of 2016, AEC will begin rolling out a marketing plan that will address participation costs and other specifics of how members will be able to take advantage of Co-op Community Solar. At that time, details will be provided so that interested members learn what’s involved in subscribing and how they can benefit.

TVA’s Renewable Energy Solutions Senior Manager Neil Placer said his team will be working with AEC to structure Co-op Community Solar in such a way as to engage AEC members: “Our goal is to support the kind of innovative approach to community solar generation that gives local people multiple ways to participate.”

An additional goal for the program—and it’s a very important one, according to Williams—is member education. “An area at the site will be dedicated to helping folks understand how solar power works and why renewable energy in general is such an important future generating source,” he says. “We’ll be partnering with local schools to develop a space that can be used to help educate the next generation of co-op members.”

Williams notes the significance of announcing the initiative at the co-op’s 75th annual meeting: “A milestone anniversary is naturally a time when you stop to reflect on the accomplishments of the past, and we certainly enjoyed celebrating AEC’s rich heritage. But there was something very special about being able to share this exciting news with our members. They’ve turned to us for safe, affordable, reliable electric power for three-quarters of a century. As we head toward the 100-year-mark, we’re fully committed to finding new ways to continue to add value to their lives.”

The electric grid connects us all

The energy industry is in the midst of an unprecedented period of transition. As this energy revolution unfolds, a modern, interconnected and reliable electric grid has never been more important.

In April, Elon Musk, the charismatic billionaire CEO of Tesla, introduced a new lithium ion battery called the PowerWall. In typical fashion for this brash tech entrepreneur, Musk paints a rosy picture of a future where homeowners disconnect from the power grid and meet all their power needs through a combination of rooftop solar and battery storage.

It’s exciting to imagine a future where renewable energy systems will allow us to generate and store electricity in a reliable and cost-effective way. Though there are many working hard to realize that goal – including electric cooperatives – it is still a long way from reality.

Unlike gasoline or propane, electricity is a form of energy that is difficult to store in large quantities. Batteries can hold enough energy to power small devices for moderate amounts of time, but current battery technology cannot practically and economically store enough energy to power larger items like appliances and TVs for longer durations.

We don’t know when the cost, size, quality and reliability of battery storage will improve to the point that it becomes a viable option to help meet our energy needs. If/when that happens, it has the potential to transform countless aspects of our lives, from our smartphones to our cars to our electric system.

The lack of a viable option for large-scale energy storage creates another challenge for power companies. Electricity supply and demand must always be perfectly matched.

If you’re a farmer, imagine what your job would be like if you couldn’t store your product – not even for a short period of time until a truck could come to pick it up. Imagine if the grain you grow or the milk your cows produce had to instantly go from harvest to consumption. Lastly, imagine that the demand for your product never stops and varies wildly throughout the day, but you always had to produce the exact right amount with no shortages or overages. That’s what electric cooperatives do every day to keep the lights on.

To meet this challenge, power companies rely on a complex and interconnected electric grid to deliver power to homes and businesses across America the instant that it’s needed. The electricity powering the lamp that you’re using to read this article was generated a fraction of a second before it was delivered to your home – most likely at a power plant far away from where you live.

These same challenges are true for people who want to generate electricity at their homes or businesses through technologies such as solar panels, small wind turbines and manure digesters that produce methane.

It’s unlikely that the amount of available sunshine, wind or manure is always perfectly matched to your immediate energy needs. Sometimes the sun is shining brightly when nobody is home, but most people still want electricity after the sun goes down. That’s where the electric grid comes into play.

By staying connected to the electric grid, your home is part of a larger system. You can usually feed extra energy back into it when you don’t need it, but more importantly, the grid is there to make sure you always have enough power when you need it.

In addition, the interconnected nature of the grid means that when there’s a problem with a generator on the system – whether that’s a homeowner’s rooftop solar array or a large power plant supplying energy to hundreds of thousands – there are plenty of other generation resources available to step in and quickly meet the need.

In some ways, the electric grid is the ultimate example of a cooperative. Every power company, from electric co-ops to investor-owned utilities to government-run systems, must work together across state lines to ensure there is always enough energy to power our lives.

Electric cooperatives are leaders in the renewable energy revolution. Three of the top four solar utilities in America are electric cooperatives. The vast majority of wind turbines in this country are built in rural areas served by cooperatives. In fact, America’s electric cooperatives support an entire team of researchers who work on issues related to renewable energy, power reliability and future technology.

Great leaders always look to the future but remain grounded in practical reality. Great leaders look out for everybody they serve and strive to ensure their actions will serve the greater good. These are the same qualities that make electric cooperatives special. Though our nation’s energy future is uncertain, there’s no doubt that America’s electric cooperatives are helping to write it – and doing so with our members’ best interests driving every action we take.

Justin LaBerge writes on consumer and cooperative affairs for the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association, the Arlington, Va.-based service arm of the nation’s 900-plus consumer-owned, not-for-profit electric cooperatives.

Pickwick EC leads national solar rankings

California and Tennessee Utilities Lead in SEPA’s 2014 Top 10 Rankings

SAN DIEGO – Pacific Gas & Electric claimed the top spot in the Solar Electric Power Association’s (SEPA’s) Top 10 rankings of U.S. utilities that put the most megawatts of solar on the grid in 2014. Meanwhile, the Pickwick Electric Cooperative of Selmer, Tenn., was named No. 1 in the rankings for adding the most solar watts per customer.

The eighth annual Top 10 rankings, announced April 29 at SEPA’s Utility Solar Conference in San Diego, are part of the educational nonprofit’s 2014 Utility Solar Market Snapshot report.

The full report, also released at the conference, identifies key industry trends, including:

  • Utility-scale solar’s ongoing importance as a main driver of market growth,
  • The emergence of dynamic solar markets outside California and Arizona
  • The impact of the industry’s continuing focus on cutting nonhardware “soft” costs, along with utilities’ efforts to improve their interconnection processes

Utilities ranking in this year’s Top 10 accounted for 72 percent of all new solar interconnections on the grid in 2014. California’s other two investor-owned utilities — Southern California Edison and San Diego Gas & Electric — were No. 2 and 3, respectively, behind PG&E on the Top 10 list for solar megawatts added in 2014.

“We are 100 percent committed to solar energy and its role in California’s energy future,” said Laurie Giammona, PG&E’s Senior Vice President and Chief Customer Officer. “Together with our customers and partners, we have worked to shorten connection times and help solar grow in our state. SEPA’s recognition shows this collaboration is paying off.”

On the watts-per-customer list, the Farmers Electric Cooperative of Kalona, Iowa and the City of St. George Energy Services Department in Utah, held down the No. 2 and 3 spots, behind the Pickwick Co-op.

“We saw it as an economic development engine for us,” Karl Dudley, Pickwick’s recently retired general manager, said of the two 16-megawatt solar installations that helped the co-op clinch the No. 1 ranking in watts per customer. “It made a statement: our utility is in the 21st century.”

“The achievements of small cooperatives such as Pickwick underline solar energy’s momentum across the United States. The market is no longer confined to California or a few other states,” said Julia Hamm, SEPA’s President and CEO. “Our Solar Market Snapshot also shows the leadership that utilities are providing as the industry works toward creating the new business models and regulatory frameworks needed to ensure a clean, affordable and sustainable energy future for all.”

The 2014 Utility Solar Market Snapshot, with full Top 10 listings, can be found at



Chickasaw EC recognized as solar leader

Somerville, Tenn.—A renewable energy survey recognizes the customers of Chickasaw Electric Cooperative as one of the top consumers of solar-generated power in the nation. According the report from the Solar Electric Power Association, CEC generates an average of 216.7 watts of solar energy per customer, the fifth most of any utility in the nation.

This is the first time Chickasaw EC has ranked on the survey. The recognition follows the installation of the West Tennessee Solar Farm in early 2012, which generates 5 megawatts of solar power brought onto the TVA power grid through Chickasaw EC.

The West Tennessee Solar Farm, located in Haywood County, is a cooperative program between the University of Tennessee, Chickasaw EC, TVA and others. It adds about five megawatts of solar power onto the TVA grid, which is enough to power 500 homes. The power harnessed at the solar farm enters the TVA grid through Chickasaw EC lines. The West Tennessee Solar Farm is the largest single source of solar power in the TVA system.

John Collins, General Manager for Chickasaw EC accepted a plaque to mark the occasion at the utility’s August 6 annual meeting in Somerville.

“It is a true honor to be recognized by SEPA for our efforts to add solar power to the TVA system,” Collins said. “The West Tennessee Solar Farm is a tremendous asset to our community and to know it is one of the top per capita generating systems in the country is a feather in our cap.”

TVA currently owns or purchases more than 6,315 megawatts of renewable generation capacity, including 77 megawatts of solar energy.

PEC to interconnect massive solar farm

SELMER, Tenn. — Strata Solar is working with the Tennessee Valley Authority and Pickwick Electric Cooperative to develop the two largest solar energy installations in the Tennessee Valley near Selmer in McNairy County, Tenn.

Strata Solar will build and maintain two 20-megawatt solar farms interconnected to the TVA power system through Pickwick Electric Cooperative. TVA will buy the electricity at market rates under TVA’s Renewable Standard Offer program.

Together, the two installations could generate enough electricity in one year to power 4,000 average homes in the Tennessee Valley.

“This project will add a tremendous amount of solar power to our already strong renewable lineup,” said Patty West, TVA director of Renewable Energy Programs. “Because TVA is purchasing the output at market rates, the electricity will also be among our cheapest solar power, moving us toward our vision of being a national leader in providing low-cost and cleaner energy.”

Current plans call for the solar farms to have more than 160,000 solar panels installed on over 300 acres. Each farm will be four times bigger than the largest current solar installation on the TVA system – the University of Tennessee’s 5-megawatt West Tennessee Solar Farm that opened in 2012 in Haywood County, Tenn.

“We are thrilled to be working with TVA & PEC on these pioneering solar projects,” said Markus Wilhelm, founder and CEO of Strata Solar. “The town of Selmer has been extremely welcoming to Strata and very helpful throughout the project planning. We are looking forward to bringing a wealth of new jobs and an abundance of renewable energy to such a fine city.”

Karl Dudley, president of Pickwick Electric, said, “We are proud to be an integral part of TVA’s goal to build a stronger renewable portfolio. This project will also spur economic development in our area, and that is always a good thing.”

The Strata Solar projects have been accepted into TVA’s Renewable Standard Offer program, pending an environmental review and interconnection studies that must be completed before construction begins. TVA is accepting public comments on the environmental review at through Aug. 13, 2013.

TVA currently owns or purchases more than 6,400 megawatts of renewable generation, including 77 megawatts of solar energy. It also supports the renewable energy industry through its Green Power Switch, Green Power Providers, and Solar Solutions Initiatives programs.

Strata Solar LLC, based in Chapel Hill, N.C., is an integrated solar energy company that owns and operates commercial and utility scale solar energy systems. With over 150 megawatts commissioned and a gigawatt under development, Strata is one of the nation’s largest solar integrators. For more information, please visit


DREMC solar farm launched

(Shelbyville, TN) Duck River Electric Membership Cooperative became the first electric cooperative in the seven state TVA service territory offering members access to green power through the newly constructed 25.92kW solar farm. Ribbon cutting festivities were held Wednesday, August 15th at 1:00pm. Representatives from DREMC’s Board of Directors, DREMC management staff, local school officials, students, elected officials and TVA representatives attended the event.

The DREMC Solar Farm Limited Partnership is located at 1411 Madison Street in Shelbyville, TN. Duck River Electric is the fourth largest electric cooperative in the state providing power to approximately 71,000 homes and businesses in all or portions of Bedford, Coffee, Franklin, Giles, Grundy, Hickman, Lawrence, Lewis, Lincoln, Marion, Marshall, Maury, Moore, Rutherford, Warren and Williamson counties.

The new DREMC Solar Farm Limited Partnership allows its members to invest in solar energy without the cost of installing or maintaining their own system. “Many people don’t want to incur the cost of home solar installation or their location isn’t ideal for solar because of their home design or an abundance of shade trees in the yard,” said Jim Allison, President and Chief Executive Officer of DREMC. “This allows our members to participate in solar energy sustainability efforts at a fraction of the cost of installing their own system.”

DREMC members can invest for as little as $600 for one unit of limited partnership interest. They will see an energy credit on their monthly bill for the duration of their ownership of the unit(s) of interest in the DREMC Solar Farm. Member investors will receive premium pricing offered by TVA in their Generation Partners Program that will help offset their original investment. DREMC will also provide its members with financing for up to a year.

“The partnership with TVA gives our members the opportunity to get in on the ground floor of the solar industry,” said Allison.  “We’re proud to offer our members the chance to support efforts in making green energy more widely available and have located this installation in proximity to elementary, middle and high schools so that it can be used as a teaching tool as well.”

Duck River Electric Membership Corporation is a member owned electric distribution cooperative founded in 1936 that currently serves nearly 71,000 members with its headquarters in Shelbyville, TN. Additional information can be found at