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Beginning a relationship through a mutual co-op project, Poudre Valley Rural Electric Association (PVREA) and Silicon Ranch have partnered on multiple projects to benefit the Northern Colorado community. David White, PVREA’s Member Relations Manager, is one of the fundamental employees who works on these special projects for the Cooperative and, with his team, communicates renewable updates to PVREA’s members.

Ten years ago, David started in the IT department at PVREA, focusing on how IT could assist coworkers in their role. With a background in marketing and his natural people-oriented persona, David had the opportunity to move into the Member Relations Manager role in 2012. He now manages a team of six individuals who focus on communication (both digital and print), community relations, including the youth program (leadership camps and scholarships), and energy efficiency and renewables at the cooperative.

To date, PVREA has over 33,000 members and serves over 40,000 homes and businesses as a not-for-profit electric utility in Colorado. Its members include both suburban neighborhoods and rural farm and ranch communities. The opportunity of working with a diverse range of people creates a great environment to deliver solutions to all different needs and interests in the area.

What prompted you to consider the addition of solar energy to PVREA’s products/services?

PVREA always wants to do what is best for our members. We are fortunate enough to thrive in an area of the country that is very open to renewable energy, as well as having good solar resources. We like to say we have over 300 days of the year with sunshine. When considering a project, we always make sure it meets three criteria:

1. The economics of a project are good.
2. The project will allow PVREA to maintain reliability.
3. The project has a concern for the conservation of natural resources.

When these items come together successfully, it is typically a great opportunity.

What was the reaction of your members to solar energy?

Thankfully, many of our members already adopted solar energy with rooftop panels. With that, we figured there would be a considerable amount of members interested in solar projects, and through feedback, our predictions were confirmed. Our data explained to our members that solar wasn’t going to be more expensive, so it was well-received. It’s really helped us show our members how much we care about the community we serve, including the environment.

What was your experience with renewable energy before Silicon Ranch?

We’ve been involved in renewables for quite a long time. Some of the bigger renewable energy project highlights in the past years include:

  • 1998: PVREA began offering a Green Power program to members.
  • 2006: PVREA began offering net metering, which allows individual members to install solar at their own home or business to offset their electric consumption.
  • 2012: The co-op created a community solar garden, which sold out before it was even built!
  • 2012: PVREA entered a PPA to purchase all energy output from a local hydro-electric plant.
  • 2015: Because of the positive response of the first community solar farm, a second solar garden was built that was sold out only a few months after it was finished.

When we teamed with Silicon Ranch, it was our biggest project to date, which was a surprise to our members. It met all our criteria, so we moved forward with this large-scale plan.

How were you introduced to Silicon Ranch?

We desired to do a utility-scale solar project, and partnered with a nearby sister co-op to find the right developer. We decided to combine our plan with theirs to increase the overall scope of the proposal. Silicon Ranch expressed an interest in acquiring the power purchase agreement and, through our due diligence of their history, we supported the choice of Silicon Ranch and have been exceptionally happy with our decision.

What’s the benefit of working with Silicon Ranch?

Silicon Ranch is highly knowledgeable, very professional, and has been extremely diligent throughout the entire process. They worked very well with our staff and within our community. Because they were very responsive to all situations in the area, they were active in getting a hold of all the permits, working with the planning commissions, and discussing plans with the county commissioners, among other things. They made this project very easy for us. Silicon Ranch brought a wealth of knowledge to us at PVREA on utility-scale solar projects. We’ve learned a lot during the entire process.

What would you advise to other cooperatives reading this if they want to make the transition into solar energy?

If a co-op wants to get involved with renewable distributive generation, they need to focus on the team they partner with. It’s very important that a co-op does their homework during the proposal process — investigate previous installations and visit with the co-op personnel those developers worked with. Because of the rapid expansion of solar energy, there are many new developers in the industry. Discuss the process, technology, and needs of your co-op, and review their track record.

Where do you see renewables going in the future?

One of the challenges with prominent renewable technology, both solar and wind, is that they are intermittent sources. This has always been a challenge for utilities, as co-ops have a certain amount of energy needed in the community, and, if renewable resource drops below the necessary amount needed, co-ops have to quickly replace with a baseline generation resource.

Energy storage is a potential game changer for this challenge. We are currently doing some small-scale pilot projects for study on this matter. We are hoping that within a year we will understand the opportunities and challenges in deploying the technology needed to combine utility-scale solar and energy storage, while making it economically sound.