Renewable Energy Sparks Surge of New Co-Ops

Rural Cooperatives, July-August 2006 | Go to article overview

Renewable Energy Sparks Surge of New Co-Ops


Editor's Note: This column has been compiled by Cooperation Works! to provide highlights of cooperative development activities funded under USDA Rural Development's Rural Cooperative Development Grants (RCDG) program. This article focuses on sustainable-energy technologies and facilities. Cooperation Works! is a network of cooperative developers who share knowledge, develop skills and use the cooperative business model to create social and economic benefits. For more information, visit: www.cooperationworks.coop.

New England goes solar

In largely rural western Massachusetts, demand for solar energy is on the rise and Pioneer Valley Photovoltaics--also known as (PV)2--is growing to meet it. The worker-owned cooperative designs and installs solar electricity and hot water systems in Massachusetts and Connecticut. To date, it has installed almost 100 residential, commercial and municipal photovoltaic systems.

In the past three years, the co-op has more than doubled annual revenue and has added eight new employees who are on track for ownership stakes in the cooperative. As one worker-owner explains, "People are really concerned about energy these days, both how much it costs and where that energy comes from. They like that we're worker-owned--it helps them feel comfortable that we'll be there to help them with energy for the long haul. And we like it that our successes have a positive impact on the environment and allow us to serve as a role model for other businesses."

The Cooperative Development Institute (CDI), headquartered in South Deerfield, Mass., and serving New England and New York, has partnered with (PV)2 since its earliest days. CDI assisted with the initial planning and launch of the co-op as well as its sales and marketing efforts, and helped them to secure $350,000 in incentives for photovoltaic installations from the Massachusetts Technology Collaborative.

Hoosiers focus on forest fuel

Indiana is home to diverse agricultural based resources available for sustainable renewable energy development. In addition to the state's emphasis on expanding the production and use of bio-based fuels such as ethanol and biodiesel, opportunities are also being explored to process wood waste from Indiana's expansive hardwoods industry into a marketable wood fuel pellet. The Indiana Cooperative Development Center (CDC), with offices in Indianapolis, is bringing together primary and secondary wood businesses with economic development partners to explore the potential of cooperative and other collaborative business models to expand an emerging biomass industry within the state.

An exploratory meeting in early 2006 with wood product business owners led to a feasibility study, now being conducted. This comprehensive study, which will investigate the demand for wood fuel pellets in the home heating and industrial-scale markets, the comparative nature of fuel pellets with existing energy resources in Indiana, the appropriate scale with cost of production at various levels, marketing strategies for the finished product, and the potential for diversifying a production facility to utilize other emerging biomass residues.

Midwest powers up

In the nation's heartland, where corn, soybeans and other potential fuel crops dominate much of the landscape, renewable energy is on everyone's mind--and cooperative development practitioners are no exception. Cooperative Development Services (CDS) with offices in Madison, Wis., and St. Paul, Minn., has been actively expanding into the area of renewable energy in Wisconsin, Minnesota and Iowa.

During the past two years, CDS has completed feasibility studies and business plans on community-owned wind power enterprises, cooperatively owned manure digesters and biodiesel facilities. It has also has provided board training to three ethanol development groups. One project now in operation, Central Bi-Products of Redwood Falls, Minn. …

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