The incredible growth in solar power has been one of the biggest energy stories of the past five years. Solar energy use in the U.S. nearly tripled during that time.
Experts expect solar growth to continue, more than doubling in the next five years. They foresee breakthroughs in materials that convert light into electricity, new business models making solar power easier to use and techniques of matching this unique form of energy with the nation’s long-established electric grid.
Electric cooperatives own or purchase more than nine times as much solar energy today as they did in 2013. While some homeowners are installing solar panels on their roofs or in their backyards, the biggest growth in solar electricity generation has been from utility-scale plants — large fields of solar cells usually owned by a utility or other company.
In November 2020, 12 Kansas electric cooperatives joined together to procure low-up-front-cost solar energy to serve their consumer-members through the Kansas Cooperative Sun Power Program developed in partnership with Today’s Power Inc. This addition of solar will enable each cooperative to provide financial stability to its consumer-members by reducing their peak demand. According to Today’s Power Inc., the solar farms were designed to maximize output during the cooperative’s peak demand hours, when power is most expensive.
Electric cooperatives have also been trailblazers in community solar programs, with more than 100 electric cooperatives in 29 states, including Kansas, offering community solar as an option for their consumer-members. In addition, the state’s generation and transmission cooperatives include solar generation among their fuel mix.
The massive growth in the solar industry has resulted in the rise of highly rated local solar companies accompanied, unfortunately, by fly-by-night operations. Kansas consumers have reported dealings with unscrupulous solar companies, some that work for a short time under one name, then change their identity and leave town, likely to stay one step ahead of any guarantees or claims they have made. Electric cooperatives want to be sure their consumer-members are not targets of deceitful practices, as some co-ops have shared recent stories of their consumer-members being sold a system not appropriate for their needs. The co-op only finds out about the situation when the consumer-member calls to complain that their energy bill has not decreased as they were told it would.
When an electric co-op asks its consumers-members to contact them first when considering adding solar to their home or business, it is to ensure consumer-members have all the information needed to make the right choices, potentially saving money and headaches down the road. Your electric co-op has worked with various local and statewide solar installers that have been in business for years acquiring a solid reputation for dependable and honest representation.
Whether it’s correctly assessing the space needed (backyard, roof, other structure) for the panels, an appropriately sized system for your needs, your property’s potential for solar or the expected solar panel payback period, please consider beginning the process with someone your trust — your electric co-op.
Lee Tafanelli is Chief Executive Officer of Kansas Electric Cooperatives, Inc. in Topeka.