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Local electric cooperatives make history with Minnesota Three


Fri, Aug 8th, 2014
Posted in All Business Announcements

Oronoco, Minn. - Three Minnesota electric distribution cooperatives made history with a ribbon-cutting ceremony for a 517-kilowatt (kW) solar array named Minnesota Three LLC in Oronoco, Minn.

Traditionally, electric cooperatives like Freeborn-Mower Cooperative Services (Albert Lea), People’s Energy Cooperative (Oronoco) and Tri-County Electric Cooperative (Rushford) have all-requirements contracts with their generation and transmission cooperatives (G&Ts) to purchase all electricity to satisfy the needs of their memberships. Contracts like these ease the planning process for G&Ts who need to plan years in advance for future power generation.

As the owners and developers of Minnesota Three, Freeborn-Mower, People’s and Tri-County have turned the table on tradition.

Dairyland Power Cooperative, of La Crosse, Wis., is the G&T for all three electric cooperatives. Last summer when Dairyland issued a request for proposal for a 517-kW solar generator the three cooperatives took the Seventh Cooperative Principle, “Cooperation Among Cooperatives”, to a new level. Together they formed Minnesota Three LLC and submitted a bid which was accepted. Dairyland will purchase all the power generated by the solar array for the next 20 years.

While solar is gaining popularity among investor-owned utilities that can take advantage of tax credits, it is more challenging for non-profit utilities, like electric cooperatives, to do the same because they don’t qualify for those credits.

“A project of this scale could not have been done individually. It took all three cooperatives creatively working together to make this happen,” says Elaine Garry, President and CEO of People’s. “It is a good fit for our cooperatives, our power supplier and our members.”

Minnesota Three’s 1,880 panels are projected to generate enough electricity to power about 60 homes a year. It is currently the largest solar array in southern Minnesota. The project is visible along Highway 52 north of Rochester.

Icing on the cake was the announcement last fall that Minnesota Three received an award from the USDA’s Rural Energy for America Program (REAP).

“We were granted $385,000. It was one of the largest solar REAP grant awards in the entire U.S. last year,” says Jim Krueger, President and CEO of Freeborn-Mower. “A grant of this size is significant to non-profit organizations like ours. It can make or break a project.”

How unique is Minnesota Three?

In the three-state area of Minnesota, Iowa and Wisconsin, there are only two known generation sites owned by distribution cooperatives that sell the power to a G&T.

“While Dairyland has other purchase-power agreements, this is their first agreement with a site that is owned by one of its own member cooperatives,” said Brian Krambeer, President and CEO of Tri-County. “Without the support of Dairyland and its members we wouldn’t have had the opportunity to build Minnesota Three.”

Other partners in the project include Dragonfly Solar, of Lakeville, Minn. Dragonfly is a commercial solar developer that was selected as the contractor of Minnesota Three. Dragonfly installed the solar panels that were manufactured by SolarWorld, the largest U.S. solar manufacturer in the U.S. since 1975. The American-made panels were manufactured at the company’s U.S. headquarters in Oregon.

Freeborn-Mower Cooperative Services is a member-owned and member-controlled electric cooperative celebrating 78 years of delivering retail electric power and energy solutions to its nearly 6,000 member-owners in Freeborn and Mower Counties. Freeborn-Mower Cooperative Services is a Touchstone Energy® cooperative and a member-owner in the Dairyland Power system of electric cooperatives that generates and transmits reliable electric power in 62 counties of four states (Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa and Illinois).

People’s Energy Cooperative is a member-owned electric cooperative celebrating over 75 years of delivering retail electric power to its nearly 12,000 member-owners in Olmsted, Dodge, Fillmore, Mower, Wabasha and Winona Counties. People’s Energy Cooperative is a Touchstone Energy® cooperative and a member-owner in the Dairyland Power system of electric cooperatives that generates and transmits reliable electric power in 62 counties of four states (Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa and Illinois).

Tri-County Electric Cooperative is a member-owned electric distribution cooperative serving three counties in Minnesota including: Winona, Houston and Fillmore and parts of Olmsted and Mower counties in Minnesota and Howard, Winneshiek and Allamakee counties in Iowa. It provides electricity to more than 13,000 services in the area. TEC is a Touchstone Energy Cooperative.

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