Co-op solar project goes online in Wisconsin

Rural electric cooperatives have been a less visible part of America’s utility landscape, despite covering more square miles of service area than investor-owned utilities. However, they are also a significant part of the nation’s move to solar.

A year and a half ago, Wisconsin’s Dairyland Power Cooperative made news by approving contracts with 15 MW of utility-scale solar projects on 12 sites, as one of the first major moves by an rural coop. And yesterday, groSolar and CMS Energy made the first announcement known to pv magazine of one of these plants going online, the 3.4 MW-DC Flambeau Solar project in Flambeau, Wisconsin.

Dairyland Power will procure the power on behalf of Price Coooperative, which has 9,000 members in nine counties in Northern Wisconsin. Dairyland Power buys wholesale power on behalf of 24 cooperatives and 17 municipal utilities, which serve a combined total of four million people in four states.

The Flambeau plant features a single-axis tracking system, which is becoming more common in wider geographies but is still less used in the Midwest than in the U.S. Southwest, California and other, sunnier regions.

pv magazine did not have information on the status of the other 11 projects in Dairyland’s solar portfolio at press time, and we will update this article as more information becomes available. However, it is clear that when they do come online these will greatly enhance Wisconsin’s total solar capacity.

GTM Research and Solar Energy Industries Association put Wisconsin 35th out of the 39 states that they track for cumulative solar capacity at the end of 2016. According to the U.S. Department of Energy’s Electricity Information Administration (EIA), Wisconsin had only 32 MW of solar PV online at the end of the year, of which utility-scale projects represented a paltry 3 MW.

But Dairyland is not the only coop to embrace solar. Following Dairyland’s announcement in February 2016, Central Texas’ Pedernales Electric Coop announced a plan to host 15 MW of community solar projects for its members, and this June Green Power EMC signed a deal with Silicon Ranch for 200 MW-AC of solar to serve its 38 member cooperatives in Georgia.