Co-Ops Get Serious about Renewable Energy: Electric Co-Ops Unite to Form 'Super REC'

Article excerpt

Electric cooperatives across the nation are banding together to do what co-ops do best: pool resources and expertise for the greater good of everyone involved. In this case, they are joining to form the National Renewables Cooperative Organization (NRCO), essentially a "super cooperative" made up of many individual rural electric cooperative utilities.

Membership is open to generation and transmission (G&T) co-ops, distribution co-ops unaffiliated with a G&T, or partial requirements co-ops, which can purchase part of their power from other sources.

This new organization will serve to identify viable renewable energy projects and make them available to its members to help co-ops diversify their portfolios. Though their primary focus is on diversifying energy portfolios, NRCO does provide the added benefit of helping co-ops in certain states meet Renewable Portfolio Standards (RPS). State RPS policies require utilities to produce a certain megawatt quantity or percentage of their electricity from renewable resources. More than half of the states already have some form of RPS.

Much more than simply staying on top of RPS requirements, a general feeling of co-op camaraderie coupled with the desire to help one another develop renewable energy projects have motivated the startup of this organization.

"Our motives were pretty straightforward," says Ron Harper, the CEO of Basin Electric Power Cooperative and chairman of the new organization's transitional board. "We're a cooperative and we want to help cooperatives."

Similarly, Earl Watkins, CEO of Sunflower Electric Power Corporation, recognizes the expertise his co-op can bring to the table regarding the challenges and advantages of wind farms, because Sunflower already receives power from two of them.

"As a G&T located in central and western Kansas, we realized that we have substantial wind resources," he says. The question is: "How can we help other G&Ts who don't have the resources in their back yard that we have in our back yard?"

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The answer, he believes, is the National Renewables Cooperative Organization.

'Super co-op' board energized

The idea for this "super cooperative" originated more than a year ago with the Generation and Transmission Managers Association which, along with the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association (NRECA), decided to contribute money to fund the development of the organization's business plan. Since then, a transitional board has been established to get the organization up and running.

"The board is very energized," says Jay Morrison, associate director of regulatory council for the NRECA's Energy Policy Sector. "They're moving forward quickly." With 15 members on the transitional board representing 10 G&T co-ops and five unaffiliated distribution co-ops, NRCO had its first official meeting on May 22, with hopes of becoming fully operational as quickly as possible.

"In terms of a timeline, the transitional board has the ability to function up to two years, but I think it was all of our desires to try to get the full board governance structure and the business plan fully put in place as soon as possible," Harper says. "It would be my hope that by the end of this year--certainly the first quarter of next year--we would be fully operational."

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Well on their way to operational status, the board appointed several committees at its May meeting to work on various aspects of governance and policies, such as a bylaws committee and a committee devoted to finding an energy management company for the organization.

"It's our goal right now to have the committee activities accomplished by August so that in September at our next meeting we'll be able to advance the project," says Watkins, who serves on the transitional board's bylaws committee. …