Cooperative Utility PV Field Manual
This manual covers the business models or pathways through which electric cooperatives can deploy utility-scale solar PV installations to meet their renewable energy goals. In this report, they define utility-scale solar PV installations for the electric cooperative sector as being 1 MW or larger—to account for the interest they have witnessed in the sector as well as the smaller scale of operations of cooperative utilities. However, the analysis and discussion presented in this manual, as well as the models used herein, apply to installations as small as 0.25 MW. Electric cooperatives’ interest in solar energy has risen in recent years. Although not-for-profit co-ops are not typically eligible for tax benefits, they often seek a “taxable partner” for solar and wind projects, either through a power-purchase-agreement or through a shared ownership model, such as a tax-equity flip or a tax-lease-buyback project. The ITC extension reduces pressure for planners to implement solar projects in 2016 and allows for more careful planning. This is especially important for co-ops that are planning community solar projects, because it allows them to pursue a multi-year plan and avoid trying to cram everything into 2016. Solar costs are expected to continue falling as the technology and the industry continue to mature. The steep rate of cost savings seen in recent years will likely slow, however. Solar Power Purchase Agreements utilizing various tax incentives have already fallen under $60 per MWh in many parts of the US—and below $40 per MWh in some areas. With the continued cost reduction, more parts of the country will start to see prices for large scale projects in the $50 to $60 per MWh range. When combined with falling costs and industry maturity of large scale energy storage, this may open opportunities for investment in carbon-free generation technologies as replacement for more traditional sources of energy, especially peaking plants. The new law will also provide a measure of stability for the development of wind projects over the next four years. Both wind and solar will play an important role in developing state implementation plans to meet the 2015 EPA Clean Power Plan.