Somewhat publicity to photo voltaic power can go a great distance in constructing neighborhood assist for photo voltaic tasks. It’s a lesson not too long ago discovered by the Oklahoma Electrical Cooperative (OEC), a member of the U.S. Division of Power’s Nationwide Group Photo voltaic Partnership. The central Oklahoma electrical utility was invited to take part in a photo voltaic pilot initiative in 2015, which constructed a plant subsequent to a highly-trafficked interstate.
Curiosity in additional resilient power sources has been rising in Oklahoma, the place excessive climate occasions like lightning storms, tornadoes, and earthquakes are frequent. The state was additionally impacted by 2021’s ‘Large Freeze’ that notoriously left thousands and thousands of individuals with out energy, highlighting considerations over how power is created and distributed. However this new, highly-visible photo voltaic array took curiosity to the following stage.
“I began getting a whole lot of calls in regards to the web site from neighborhood members, particularly lecturers,” says Nick Shumaker, OEC’s head engineer and supervisor of the cooperative’s renewable power portfolio. “It felt like they had been ravenous for publicity to renewables.”
Nick began giving excursions of the positioning to lecturers and their college students. He additionally developed an hour-long presentation about power, transmission, and the way renewables match into the image, and finally partnered with OEC’s neighborhood engagement workforce to develop extra supplies to inform the story of the positioning.
Curiosity in this system saved rising. Nick and his colleagues started to surprise—what in the event that they developed an academic photo voltaic web site on goal? He posed this query to some lecturers who had toured the positioning. They pointed him towards a chunk of land owned by one among OEC’s prospects, Norman Public Colleges.
Because it turned out, the varsity district was having related conversations. Earlier that 12 months, lecturers had gone on strike over low wages and the district was scrutinizing its price range. Constructing upkeep and power prices represented practically 80% of the annual price range, making them prime contenders for cost-cutting methods. The district had thought of including photo voltaic to its properties, however was deterred by the steep up-front prices and complicated rules on distributed photo voltaic. In making a reference to Nick, although, the district realized a partnership with OEC may generate income for the varsity, present training for college students, and assist develop a neighborhood photo voltaic mannequin—a win, win, win.
Nick and the remainder of the OEC workforce labored carefully with Norman Public Colleges to develop a 2-megawatt photo voltaic venture, which went on-line in December of 2020. OEC took on the monetary danger and planning obligations for the venture however assured income for the set up via a 30-year lease. The venture supplied extra advantages through the ‘Large Freeze’ of February 2021, producing power via the storm and serving to OEC maintain power costs low.
Now, OEC and lecturers are leveraging neighborhood curiosity to debate arrange future neighborhood photo voltaic tasks and develop extra instructional sources for college students, together with exploring a partnership with Oklahoma College and an area technical faculty that may contain college students in constructing the tasks.
With no up-front prices or upkeep obligations, the commonest query Nick receives is, “Why wouldn’t we do that?” OEC is at present exploring a number of fashions for a neighborhood photo voltaic venture, together with a conventional mannequin the place subscribers obtain invoice credit, a mannequin the place venture income funds scholarships for college students, and different community-driven choices. Regardless, Nick is aware of there will likely be no scarcity of subscribers.
The Norman Public Colleges photo voltaic set up was made attainable partially by the Nationwide Rural Electrical Cooperative Affiliation’s (NRECA’s) Attaining Cooperative Group Equitable Photo voltaic Sources (ACCESS) venture, which is funded by the U.S. Division of Power’s Photo voltaic Power Applied sciences Workplace (SETO). The Norman Public Colleges photo voltaic set up is the primary venture to obtain technical help via the ACCESS initiative. The NRECA has been a member of the NCSP since 2021.