Roanoke Electric Among Co-ops Using Dept. of Energy Grant for Solar Programs

The National Rural Electric Cooperative Association (NRECA), the trade association for the nation’s electric cooperatives, has won a $1 million, three-year grant from the U.S. Department of Energy to research the best ways for electric cooperatives to extend the benefits of solar power to low-income members. NRECA will work with six co-ops that are already conducting innovative solar projects designed to benefit low and moderate-income members, including Roanoke Electric Cooperative.

Roanoke Electric, based in Aulander, NC, has received nearly $500,000 in donations from clean energy groups to help low-income households buy solar panels in the co-op’s community solar garden as part of its SolarShare initiative. By earning credits from solar panel subscriptions, co-op members have the leverage to pay for needed health and safety repairs at their homes. These repairs prepare the home for full participation in the cooperative’s energy-efficiency financing program, Upgrade to $ave, said Roanoke Electric COO Marshall Cherry.

Roanoke Electric’s community solar garden at its office in Aulander

The SolarShare initiative has boosted participation in the co-op’s community solar garden from about 25 percent of its existing capacity to 100 percent within one year, he said.

“This is a way for us to bring more engagement in solar while meeting the pocketbook issues faced by member-owners in this economically distressed region,” Cherry said.

The DOE grant is funding NRECA’s Achieving Cooperative Community Equitable Solar Sources (ACCESS) project, a three-year effort to research financing mechanisms, program designs and engagement strategies to equip electric co-ops with the tools they need to successfully develop solar projects to benefit low- and moderate-income consumers.

Other co-ops participating in the program are: Anza Electric Cooperative in California; Oklahoma Electric Cooperative in Norman; Orcas Power & Light Cooperative in Eastsound, Washington; BARC Electric Cooperative in Millboro, Virginia; and Kit Carson Electric Cooperative in Taos, New Mexico.