Archived Story

LREC has sold nearly half of its solar panels in first month

Published 11:44am Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Lake Region Electric Cooperative worked for more than a year on putting together its community solar panel project.

One thing officials knew from the very beginning, according to Vice President of Energy Services Dan Husted, was they wanted to keep it local.

“We didn’t want third parties coming in from out of state to sell solar installations,” Husted said. “We wanted to be that provider.”

Now, LREC will be that provider to its members, having finished the project in December. The panels went on sale to members on Dec. 11 and the co-op has so far sold 46 of the 96 available panels.

LREC members can purchase up to 10 panels and can also purchase half-panels. Instead of a monthly rate, members pay $1,500 per panel and get the solar output of that panel in their homes for 20 years.

It was important to LREC officials not to have any kind of mandated solar plan, Husted said. The project was set up so that all rate-paying members are not subsidizing the solar panel users.

LREC CEO Tim Thompson has heard very positive feedback from members in this early stage of the project. As with Husted, it was crucial to Thompson that the project not involve too many other entities.

“As the electric co-op, we want to bring these types of resources to our membership and keep the value local,” Thompson said.

The solar panels have 40 kilowatts of power. While that does not make it a huge project, it is much larger than what any one LREC member would be able to have at their own residence.

Thompson compared the project to a community garden and said it should benefit all co-op members, not just the ones who choose to purchase panels.

Husted anticipates the co-op should be able to sell the remaining panels in the next few months. Solar power during this time of year is not close to its full potential, which Husted said should come around mid-June and last through the summer.

The project is the only one of its kind in Otter Tail County. Even throughout the rest of the country, these types of solar power projects are rare. Husted said LREC based its early ideas off some similar projects in Colorado.

But Husted fully expects the project to attract serious attention in the region, which it has already begun to do to an extent.

“We have spoken to co-ops all around the region, from Wisconsin to South Dakota and farther away,” he said. “They have a lot of questions and are interested in our model.”

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