Wabash Valley Power, an electric generation and transmission (G&T) cooperative based in Indianapolis, this week demonstrated clean energy leadership and foresight, signing off on a 30-year Power Purchase Agreement (PPA) to be the sole buyer of electricity from a 99-megawatt (MW) solar array planned for construction in Illinois’ Perry County.
The co-op’s pursuit of clean energy is providing the impetus to build the Prairie State Solar Project, which is expected to be the largest in Illinois and will more than double that state’s current solar capacity of 81.5 MW, according to the Solar Energy Industries Association.
The significance of the move by Wabash Valley Power into the PPA is generated in part by the size of the G&T enterprise. It supplies electricity to 23 not-for-profit electric distribution cooperatives located throughout Illinois, Missouri and Indiana. Collectively, the cooperatives serve more than 311,000 homes, farms, schools and businesses.
Construction on the utility-scale solar development being built by New York-based Ranger Power is expected to begin next year. The project is scheduled to come online in 2021, when it will provide enough electricity to power nearly 15,000 homes.
The PPA and its attending project underscore a strong development environment sparked by declining prices of utility-scale solar, a factor coupled with a growing commitment from state governments to create revenue and in-state energy jobs.
Specifically, the new array will represent a nearly $100-million investment in southwestern Illinois that also will contribute millions of dollars in tax revenue without requiring additional public infrastructure or services.
And the Prairie State Solar Project supports the objectives of the Future Energy Jobs Act, an Illinois law that went into effect last year requiring at least 4,300 MW of new solar and wind energy to be built in the state by 2030. The new solar project also supports the law’s job creation initiative by creating an estimated 200 jobs during the construction phase, and 3 to 5 full-time positions once the site is operational.
While the Wabash Valley Power PPA with the Illinois facility is significant, it is not without precedent. The co-op has 16 waste-to-energy, landfill-based methane gas capture plants providing 53 MW in power; five small solar facilities spread across three states producing 1.7 MW; a PPA with four anaerobic digestion facilities generating 6 MW; and PPAs for some 64 MW in wind power.
The co-op’s leadership has long demonstrated a desire to explore the renewable option. Greg Wagoner, WVP’s executive vice president for stakeholder and government relations, joined other utility executives and rural energy leaders on a weeklong, 25x’25-sponsored renewable energy tour of Germany in late 2012.
Greg was part of the leadership of 25x’25’s Energy for Economic Growth (EEG) initiative, and in Germany, he and his colleagues saw firsthand the transformation in electricity generation underway. The renewable share of the power market in that country had already reached 25 percent that year, having grown from just 6 percent in 2000. Greg and the others returned enlightened and motivated, flush with ideas for distributed generation projects that could deliver win-win outcomes for rural electric co-ops and their members.
Almost six years later, Wabash Valley is part of a growing trend among cooperatives – and all utilities in general – turning more and more toward renewables. The National Rural Electric Cooperative Association (NRECA), which represents nearly 900 cooperatives, public power districts and public utility districts located in 47 states and provides electric service to almost three-quarters of the nation’s landmass, recently released an analysis showing power from renewable energy is increasing, while that from coal is falling rapidly.
NRECA numbers show 95 percent of its distribution members offer renewable options to 40 million Americans. Including federal hydropower, co-ops own or purchase roughly 10 percent of all U.S. renewable capacity. They own more than 1.3 gigawatts (GW) of renewable capacity and have long-term power purchase agreements for nearly 7.4 GW – in addition to roughly 10 GW of preference power contracts with federal hydroelectric facilities.
The 25x’25 Alliance commends Wabash Valley Power and other rural electric co-ops that are actively pursuing greater development of renewable energy in this country. Wabash joins co-ops that are currently set to add more than 1 GW of additional renewable capacity over the next few years. It’s just more evidence of the inevitable transition toward cleaner resources to meet the nation’s future energy needs.