Final testing is under way at a 2.7-megawatt solar farm in rural North Texas, powered by solar panels from SolarWorld, that is serving as a model for utility cooperatives interested in undertaking solar projects. Owned by CoServ Electric, a 78-year-old utility co-op that serves more than 165,000 members across seven counties, the CoServ Solar Station is believed to be the largest co-op solar installation in the state.
The CoServ array in Denton County, about 50 miles northwest of Dallas, is one of 14 pilot projects nationwide to be selected for the Solar Utility Network Deployment Acceleration (SUNDA) project, a U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) program designed to hasten solar deployment by electric cooperatives. Under the program, co-ops receive assistance in areas such as engineering, finance and procurement in an effort to drive down the soft costs of solar development.
“Solar power will be part of tomorrow’s energy mix, and thanks to our forward-thinking board of directors, CoServ is among the first co-ops in Texas to be planning for it today,” said Donnie Clary, CoServ’s president and CEO.
According to the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association (NRECA), a partner with DOE in the SUNDA program, the nation’s more than 900 electric co-ops have great interest in developing solar energy projects, but few have deployed utility-scale systems in light of insufficient design standards, cost-benefit assessment tools, financing and training. Through its affiliation with the SUNDA program, the CoServ Solar Station will stand as a model for other co-ops in pushing past these barriers to develop solar facilities.
Comprised of 8,448 of SolarWorld’s 315-watt, 72-cell solar panels, the CoServ Solar Station is situated on a 16-acre site in Krugerville, Texas, that was served as a peanut farm. Like many rural communities, Krugerville had no electricity until CoServ (then called Denton County Electric Cooperative) energized lines in the area in 1938.
“For many years, SolarWorld has worked hand-in-hand with the nation’s utility cooperatives to bring renewable energy to their members,” said Ardes Johnson, U.S. vice president for sales and marketing of SolarWorld, the largest U.S. crystalline-silicon solar manufacturer for 40 years. “This project is important because it not only brings clean energy to a rapidly growing market in Texas, but it also lights the way for co-ops across the country to follow in CoServ’s footsteps.”
Beginning in September, CoServ members will be able to buy units of solar energy under a special solar residential rate.