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by Share Brandt

Only a Few of Us

We have been contacted recently by folks who would like electric co-ops to help those who want to build renewable energy projects by paying them a rate for the excess power generated that is at or above the retail rate we charge all member ratepayers. The goal for these renewable-system owners is to accelerate their rate of return on the purchase of the equipment. So, in theory, they would generate their own power, use what they need to run the household and/or farm, and then the electric co-op would pay a high enough rate for the excess so they can be profitable sooner. It sounds like a great deal for the equipment owner, doesn’t it?

Here is where the idea might not set well with your co-op’s board of directors. When setting the co-op’s retail rate, fairness to all members is the primary goal. When one member stops purchasing from the co-op then gets a special rate for energy sold back to the co-op, the rest of the members would be subsidizing that one member. The co-op board would be asking the members who don’t have the wherewithal to own their own generation to subsidize a farm or residential member who does have the money.

Exceeding the Standard

Don’t get me wrong, co-ops support renewable energy in many ways. Our power suppliers have added large renewable-energy projects to meet the 10-percent-by-2015 renewable portfolio standard. In fact, Dairyland Power Cooperative has met and exceeded that standard already in 2012 through wind, solar, hydro, biogas, and biomass resources. In addition, Dairyland has supported its local distribution co-op members’ ability to pay retail rates on small customer-owned renewables. Working through the power supplier spreads the cost over a larger group of members.

Now if you are still not convinced that we are doing enough to support renewable energy, consider this. Many electric co-ops offer members a renewable-energy purchase option. The member signs up to voluntarily pay a little more each month to support renewable-energy development. Co-ops have offered this for several years. Unfortunately very few members sign up for the option. Is it because the electricity would cost more?

The Most from the Fewest

Co-ops serve the fewest number of ratepayers in the state, yet we already have the most renewable-energy projects. These generation systems provide the least amount of power with less reliability and at a higher cost than our traditional electric generation resources. The simple fact that our service territories are rural and our members own large tracts of land makes co-ops’ service areas an attractive place to build wind turbines, place solar panels, and site methane digesters. On our own, electric co-ops cannot sustain paying more for less-efficient and less-reliable power. We only serve 5.5 consumers per mile of line. Many of our consumer members are already struggling to pay their monthly bills.

If Wisconsin state policymakers determine that renewable energy is important to Wisconsin’s future, then the policy needs to establish a different method to subsidize the higher cost than asking individual utility ratepayers to pay higher rates to benefit a few project owners. Please don’t ask the less than 9 percent of the state’s electric ratepayers to subsidize renewable energy. There are only a few of us living in electric co-op service territories.