South Plains Electric Cooperative announces plans for community-scale solar power

Updated: May. 21, 2019 at 1:11 PM CDT
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LUBBOCK, Texas (KCBD) - The South Plains Electric Cooperative (SPEC) has unveiled an initiative to increase clean energy in West Texas on a community scale.

SPEC is joining four other electric distribution cooperatives in Texas with agreements to purchase 7 megawatts of distribution-scale solar generation with the goal of providing cost-effective clean energy to whole communities.

They will do this by situating medium-sized solar farms near communities that will use the power generated. All arrays are scheduled to be built and online by June 2020.

The purchase agreement with Canadian renewable energy developer, Saturn Power Corporation, will provide development and operation of wind, solar and battery storage projects in 18 counties across the South Plains, including Childress, Cottle, Crosby, Dickens, Floyd, Foard, Garza, Hale, Hall, Hardeman, Hockley, Kent, King, Lamb, Lubbock, Lynn, Motley and Stonewall..

Colorado-based sustainability organization, the Rocky Mountain Institute (RMI), acting as representative for the cooperatives, announced in a news release that they selected Saturn Power following a competitive bidding process.

The scale of distribution based on communities, as opposed to based on individual utilities, allows the cost and efficiency benefits of solar energy to reach a wider group and increase the effectiveness; as some have questioned whether the benefits of implementing utility-based solar energy outweigh the costs to install and maintain.

Another advantage of this new system in development is the solar arrays for each of the buyers will be sited on the cooperatives’ distribution systems, thereby avoiding Energy Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) demand charges and generation capacity charges from their generation and transmission providers. Considering these demand-charge savings in addition to the low price of the solar energy produced on this scale, RMI believes the portfolio of solar systems will provide more total value to the buyers than a utility-scale solar installation would.

The project looks to take advantage of Texas’ strong solar resource and high per-capita carbon intensity, making it an important location in the development of this new system.

“Developing these solar energy installations makes a lot of sense for our members,” Bryan Lightfoot, general manager and CEO of one of the groups in the agreement, Bartlett Electric Cooperative, said. “Not only will we be providing more clean, locally sourced energy to our community and hardening our grid, but we expect to save money over the life of these projects by becoming more self-sufficient.”

The Rocky Mountain Institute is currently working in Colorado, New Mexico, North Carolina and New York state, as well as Texas to develop community-scale affordable solar energy by working directly with local providers, municipal utilities and electric cooperatives.

With this project, RMI is releasing its “Solar Procurement Network,” a guide that builds on existing resources to help interested parties successfully develop 1-10 megawatt solar projects.

You can find more information on the Rocky Mountain Institute, Community-scale solar energy, and the Solar Procurement Network here.

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