A Colorado Rural Electric Co-op Provides Renewable Energy Part II
Dec. 13, 2018
Renewable energy credits are helping a rural Colorado electric cooperative provide cleaner energy to its members. Holy Cross Energy recently adopted a new clean energy and greenhouse gas reduction goal. By 2030, the cooperative will use renewable energy to supply at least 70% of the power provided to co-op members, reduce greenhouse gas emissions associated with its power supply by 70% from 2014 levels, and accomplish both of these goals with no increase in the cost of power supply.
Steve Beuning, vice president of power supply and programs for Holy Cross Energy, says renewable energy credits are helping the cooperative and its members achieve the goal, and he explains how those credits work.
"I kind of picture them as a postage stamp. I might have a postage stamp that hasn’t been used yet and I can convey it to you and you can put it on a letter. Once you mail that letter, the stamp is canceled, and it is basically retired out of circulation as an instrument. So, when our utility procures renewable energy from renewable assets, and the accounting for this energy generates these renewable energy certificates. When our customers participate in the program, or when we as a utility claim a renewable energy supply as part of our production of energy for our customers, in either case, we retire these RECs to take them out of circulation."
Holy Cross Energy allows members to connect renewable energy systems to the grid. Beuning says this offers many benefits to members and the cooperative.
"Any electric customer can site solar generation at their location behind their electric meter and use that electricity to offset their purchases from their supplying utility, and that kind of arrangement is generally known as net metering. One of the issues with net metering is that at noon when the sun is high, the customer usually is making much more electricity than they are using at the moment. And then, at night, their solar panels aren’t producing, and the utility is supplying their consumption. But, as the host utility, we balance the account on a monthly consumption basis. So, their overproduction during the day credits against their consumption from the utility in the nighttime hours."
When customers oversupply, that energy can go back into the power grid to supply other customers at that moment. Holy Cross Cooperative has roughly 1,200 members with their own solar equipment who supply roughly 2% of the electric cooperative's power needs. He says the future holds promise of more renewable energy for rural areas.
"If you look at how the old utilities used to do it, they would make huge generating plants, and people would just use electricity whenever or however they wanted. And I think what will happen in the future is as large renewable assets come online, there will be periods where there’s more wind blowing or sun shining and associated electric production than the customers are using, so there will be an incentive for customers to use during those hours when it takes best advantage of the available resource."
Learn more about how electric cooperatives are using renewable energy in rural, farm, and ranch communities online.
"For general information, there’s a good internet resource at www.electric.coop, which is the website for the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association. As a member-owned and member-elected board of directors, co-ops have a lot of flexibility and can do things that a traditional utility can't, so understanding their business model is pretty interesting."