Western Iowa Power Cooperative

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The Western Iowa Power Cooperative

Map of WIPCO service area

Along the western border of Iowa on the Missouri River, WIPCO’s service territory crosses the Loess Hills and covers 2,000 square miles over 9 counties. They’ve become a solar leader by developing in-house expertise and supporting solar efforts by members and other co-ops. They now offer three solar options: member-sited solar, cooperative solar and Renew-a-watt.  The cooperative currently owns 2.5 MW of solar across their service territory.

Behind WIPCO’s successful service is forward-thinking leadership, Executive Vice President and General Manager, Jeff Bean and Director of Member Services Stephanie Wiese listened to the membership’s interest in solar when developing their first on-site solar offerings. In the beginning, some members did not understand solar energy, so Wiese hosted workshops explaining the benefits and detailing how the cooperative could help save them money. Members came out to events across the service territory, and several folks from outside the area came as well, with strong interest in solar.

WIPCO installed their first of ten solar projects in 2015, but they continue to offer on-site solar installation for their members as well. This innovative approach makes WIPCO a rural solar leader.

Wiese says, I definitely think that every cooperative should have cooperative solar available to their members…You don’t know that your members are looking at solar until you go out and ask them.

 

Listening to their Members: Developing On-Site Solar

As a cooperative leader, WIPCO initially sold and installed solar on-site for members.  It didn’t take long for this unique approach to catch the attention of other cooperatives, and WIPCO began to provide installation for members of other co-ops as well.

To better serve their members and surrounding communities, WIPCO joined Iowa Choice Renewables (ICR). ICR is a group of cooperatives that install renewable energy systems for members to use on their property.

WIPCO member Rick Vetter

WIPCO member Rick Vetter

Even as they started to build cooperative solar arrays for their offices, WIPCO continued to offer qualified members on-site solar options through ICR. Members can add solar on their own property in lieu of, or in addition to, the cooperative solar program. “If a member can go to Lowe’s and buy a solar panel,” Jeff Bean wondered, “why can’t they go to their own electric co-op and buy a solar panel?”

WIPCO member Rick Vetter owns a solar installation on his farm in Iowa. Before installing, his annual electricity bills were around $9,500. Now, he only pays for electricity in January and February and his panels produce enough power for the rest of the year.

Vetter decided to add solar to his property after encountering a few rough years on his property in the 1980s and in the late 2000s. “I looked into wind mills but they require a lot of maintenance” says Vetter.  Since installing solar, he is saving energy and money, while being able to monitor his solar energy production.

Expanding their Options: Cooperative Solar

WIPCO owns ten solar arrays totaling 2.5 MW for their community solar program they label as “cooperative solar”), including arrays at each of their offices. Members can purchase a subscription to a full panel for $898 or a half panel for $450, with no subscription limit. To increase participation, the cooperative offers an installment plan starting as low as $19/ month.

overhead shot of solar panel arrays

There is also no premium for joining their cooperative solar program and any excess energy is rolled over to the next month to the member’s benefit. Cooperative member, Loretta Reimers, joined the program:

“I decided to participate in Community Solar for several reasons. I was interested in solar but didn’t want the equipment on my property. I also didn’t want the insurance and maintenance that goes along with having on-site solar.

One hundred percent of my bill is offset by WIPCO’s Community Solar. I like the fact that I can subscribe to enough panels to take care of my whole bill!”

WIPCO member Loretta Reimers

WIPCO knows their members value information and transparency, so they even set up internet live streams at their solar arrays in Denison and Onawa. These user-friendly displays include information about carbon offsets and power production so members can learn more about the solar arrays that power their homes.

WIPCO found they were still not meeting all their members needs due to the initial investment or the length of the program.  In 2018, WIPCO rolled out a new program called Renew-a-watt.  It is a 10-year solar program with no upfront investment.  The member commits by subscribing 100% of their kilowatt hour usage to the program at a kilowatt hour rate (adding 1.5 cents / kWh) that is locked in for 10 years.  WIPCO commits to installing solar panels to cover their yearly usage.

Over a 3 month period, they subscribed over 800,000 kilowatt hours to the program which equated to over 1,800 solar panels that will now be owned and maintained by WIPCO.

 

How They Did It: Funding & Financing

To finance their first solar arrays, WIPCO looked to the Rural Energy for America Program (REAP) and Clean Renewable Energy Bonds (CREBS).  CREBS reduce financing costs for cooperatives to issue “tax credit bonds,” in lieu of the Production Tax Credit. The National Rural Electric Cooperative Association (NRECA) says this combination is the best way for cooperatives to reduce system costs. (Unfortunately, CREBs are not currently available.)

After the success of this low-cost financing, some members who were early investors in the solar project received a reimbursement. Noting the growing benefits of solar, they reinvested that money into more subscriptions to WIPCO’s community solar program.

 

 

Trusted Leaders in Western Iowa

WIPCO facilitates on-site solar installation and offers cooperative solar options; taken together, members can find a solution that fits their energy needs. The cooperative wants to provide the best options for their community members and they do, by listening to their members and offering great service and innovative energy solutions.

They work hard to stay ahead of their members’ needs, so the co-op is already developing additional cooperative solar arrays, which should be ready by the end of 2019.

Western Iowa Power Cooperative Photo Gallery

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Denison Arrays 2
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Onawa Array 1
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Onawa Array 2

Western Iowa Power Cooperative Videos

Introduction to WIPCO

WIPCO: A Trusted Resource

WIPCO Community Cooperative Solar

Hearing from a WIPCO Solar Member

Western Iowa Power Cooperative Resources

WIPCO-service-territory-map

WIPCO-service-territory-map

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