Co-op Power wants to ‘Rays the Valley’

From the Greenfield Recorder article

Co-op Power, a network of community energy cooperatives, is lowering the bar for solar electricity access with its “Rays the Valley” programs.

Working with Community Action, Climate Action Now and Mothers Out Front, the co-op network is signing up participants for a series of solar projects, with several more planned for next year.

The collaborative was one of only 35 groups to be awarded a “Solar in Your Community” competitive grant from the U.S. Department of Energy’s SunShot Initiative to broaden the access to solar power. With the money, 2.5 megawatts of Co-op Power’s solar capacity would be made available to low-income households as well as nonprofit organizations.

While Community Action has long had a energy-efficiency program to reduce energy costs for low-income people, Co-Op Power’s Lynn Benander said, “It’s somewhat unprecedented around here to have Community Action involved in low-income solar projects. It’s really exciting. Community Action is one of the leaders in the nation in figuring out how to make sure low-income people aren’t totally passed by in this solar revolution, where people have access to reducing their energy bills through solar.”

The $60,000 in federal funding, with another $10,000 to provide technical assistance to the co-op, is aimed at getting low-income households and nonprofits, which typically can’t take advantage of federal tax credits as incentives to build their own systems, to sign up for subscription projects.

Benander said she hopes that at least one-quarter of the people who sign up for a 3,000 kilowatts of solar that’s been developed in four Berkshire County sites will be low-income users.

A typical household needs between 5 to 10 kilowatts, according to Mark Skinder of Co-op Power.

That 3-megawatt Berkshire development for the four sites, which is awaiting hookup by Eversource, will be augmented with another 2.8 megawatts, which is being developed for use by municipalities, with another 2.8 megawatts planned to be built next year, Benander said.

“We’re doing solar for everybody. Anyone can sign up,” she said, providing that they first join the co-op. Membership costs begin as low as $250, which can be spread over 10 years. The no-money-down subscription solar has the benefit of providing 15 percent discounts off monthly electric bills is designed for people who can’t make use of tax credits and don’t have access to a good site for a solar array.

Co-op Power, which Benander says has been working on solar projects for 15 years, also has a direct-owned community solar program where members can buy part of a PV system on a shared site, for people who don’t have access to their own solar site. For that program, as well as a direct-owned solar program, income-qualifying members can get 20 to 30 percent off the cost of the system.

Through Co-op Power’s “use of novel funding and ownership models,” nonprofits can reduce their electricity bills with no money down. By partnering with lenders and socially responsible tax equity investors to build roof or ground-mount arrays on the nonprofit’s property, the system will be transferred to the nonprofit after 5 to 7 years of receiving discounted electric bills.

Benander said the co-op has been working with project developers and on its own on projects across western Massachusetts that are between 10 kilowatts and 1 megawatt in size. But, she said it has had difficulty finding sites in Franklin County.

Plans for a 595-megawatt photovoltaic project at the Greenfield Industrial Park, near Co-op Power’s Northeast Biodiesel plant, fell apart when Eversource wanted to charge a $688,000 interconnection fee, Benander said. “We’re still looking at ways to do that. Franklin County’s been a tough nut to crack.”

She added that the co-op has found it easier to work with National Grid on projects.

In addition to that 2.5 megawatts it plans to build, Co-op Power is seeking subscribers for a 3 megawatt project as well as a 2.8 megawatt solar project for municipalities, with another 2.8 megawatt community solar project in 2018, according to Benander.

In hopes of signing up 400 customers by mid-August, its Franklin Community Energy Co-op has scheduled three informational meetings: July 20 from 7 to 8:30 p.m. at Greenfield Community College’s downtown campus, July 27 from 6:30 to 8 p.m. at McCusker’s Market in Shelburne Falls and Aug. 3 from 7 to 8:30 p.m. at Millers River Environmental Center in Athol.

¡Solar Sin Barreras! 🏘 🏚 🏡 🏢 💡 🔆 👵🏾 👴🏼 👨🏽‍🌾 👩🏻‍🎓 Training Opportunity

Volunteer Opportunities - Solar Signup

Dear Co-op Power Members and Supporters:

Can you join us for the solar volunteer training Thursday evening?

We’re preparing to sign up hundreds of people for our new solar offerings and we’re wondering if you might be interested in volunteering to help people sign up for solar in your community. Volunteers can work out of our Northampton or Worcester office, in their community, or at one of Co-op Power’s upcoming events. If you’re able to volunteer, please register for this Thursday’s volunteer training session or arrange for another time by contacting Daniel McLeod at dmcleod@cooppower.coop  or call (413) 772-8898 ext 3.

VOLUNTEER TRAINING SESSION

Thursday July 13, 2017, 6:30 PM – 8:30 PM at Co-op Power Office, 296 Nonotuck St. Suite #4, Florence, MA or on a online webinar. (See below for the training session agenda.)

Co-op Power members decided to make community solar one of Co-op Power’s top priorities and we’ve made a lot of progress over the last two years. As part of this effort, Co-op Power and our Community Energy Co-ops have been working together with Community Action, Climate Action Now, and Mothers Up Front in a collaborative project called Rays the Valley, to develop these solar options and spread the word. We received one of 35 national Community Solar awards from the Department of Energy’s SunShot program for our work. This project is helping everyone, including low income households and nonprofits who can’t take advantage of the tax credits, to join the solar revolution. We’re in a national competition to build 2.5 MW of low income and nonprofit solar by October 2018. (See more info below.)

We’re now ready to launch a set of three programs that can provide solar to every household, business, nonprofit, house of worship, school, and municipality in our county - whether they have a good site for solar, or money, or not. A solar investment can save people a lot of money, and now they can just subscribe, with no money down and save money right from the start. We’re now helping people choose between these solar options, depending on whether they have money or a site that’s good for solar:
One of the goals of the grant-funded project is to sign up 400 customers by mid-August.

Franklin Community Energy Co-op has scheduled three gatherings to sign up potential customers. We are looking for volunteers to assist people in signing up for one of Co-op Power’s solar programs at these events.

Thursday, July 20, 2017, 7 PM- 8:30 PM at Greenfield Community College Downtown Campus, 270 Main St.,Greenfield, MA

Thursday, July 27, 2017, 6:30 PM – 8 PM at McCusker’s Market, 3 State Street, Shelburne Falls, MA

Thursday, August 3, 2017. 7 PM – 8:30 PM at Millers River Environmental Center, 100 Main St, Athol, MA    

Other Community Energy Co-ops are thinking of holding other events too.

People can also call Co-op Power at 877-277-6543, or send a copy of their electric bill to solar@cooppower.coop and let us know which options sound best to them. Volunteers can come into the office and help us process these signups.

As a volunteer, you might also schedule drop in hours at your Town Hall or a local restaurant.

This is a great opportunity for bringing solar to our communities and building membership in Co-op Power and our Community Energy Co-ops! Please let us know if this is something that might fit into your summer!

More about our Community Solar Offering

So we finally did it. We are selling community solar shares because our members made it a top priority. So what exactly does it mean to buy a community solar share? Let's focus on one specific project to make it easier to follow. 

Ok, so one of our community solar projects is called Cloverdale in that it is located on Cloverdale Street in Pittsfield MA. It is a large array made up of many panels that generates electricity while the sun is hitting it. When the utility receives electricity from our array onto the grid, they change those kilowatt hours into net metering credits and distribute them to participating electricity accounts.

Anyone who wants to save 15% on their electric bill in Eversource Western and Central Mass can subscribe. 

Here's how it works: 1) You sign up for certain number of shares in the community solar array. 2) At the end of each month, you'll receive a credit on your electric bill that represents your portion of the kilowatt hours produced by the array. (The utility converts kilowatt hours into credits when they're placed on the grid.)  3) You'll pay Co-op Power 85% of the value of your credits through your Common Good account. For each $100 dollars in credits you earn on your electric bill, you pay Co-op Power $85.

Contact Mark for more information: 877-266-7543, mark@cooppower.coop

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