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'Locally grown' electricity is next big step for rural America

Jeff Haase, Great River Energy manager for member services and end use strategies

Jeff Haase, Great River Energy manager for member services and end use strategies

Many people like to eat locally grown foods.

Rather than buy a tomato from Florida, why not grow a tomato here to eat here?

Buying locally saves a lot of energy.

The same thing may work for electrical production.

Using the electricity produced by a solar array or by wind turbines in rural America means less electricity must be transferred here via the energy grid.

Historically, power companies have built large power plants and transmission lines. The cost of the infrastructure is shared by customers or cooperative members.

Now, power companies are seeing that if someone is producing their own electricity on their farm or business, it saves the energy that is normally required to bring electricity to the farm.

“We are looking at bringing that (electrical) scale not from perhaps steel and concrete in the ground with generation, but with systems’ integration software and connectivity with our member owners,” said Jeff Haase, Great River Energy manager for member services and end use strategies.

He spoke at the 2022 Midwest Farm Energy Conference held at the West Central Research and Outreach Center, Morris.

“We see advances within the wholesale market that are opening up pathways to direct market participation of disaggregated, distributed energy resources that are going to become more centralized, and systems integrated,” Haase added.

As an example, if a large dairy wanted to use 100 percent renewable energy, and they were already producing 25 percent of their own energy, then their power company would be looking at supplying 75 percent of their remaining renewable energy. That would be an easier task than having to supply 100 percent of the renewable energy.

Great River Energy President and CEO David Saggau recently described his vision for rural electric cooperatives: “You would start with a portfolio of renewable energy resources at locations throughout the Midwest. You would back those up with modern, flexible natural gas peaking plants – and you would have ready access to the electricity market to purchase additional energy when you need it.”

To accomplish this, Great River Energy envisions an integrated energy network that includes many types of renewable energy. They are reducing their coal-based energy, using natural gas to generate electricity, and doubling their renewable energy. By the end of 2025, they intend to bring on-line about 1,244 MW of wind power. New turbines are going up in western and southern Minnesota, as well as central North Dakota and extreme east central South Dakota.

“Wind is the future,” Haase said. “Wind is what we see in this market, running costs, setting prices, and helping to meet our energy requirements.

“What we also have are lots of peaking plants that help to provide the capacity that is necessary in times when the wind isn’t blowing, or we have extreme events,” he continued. “But we’re also looking at other ways that use member resources as part of our power supply portfolio.”

Great River Energy is a wholesale cooperative in generation and transmission serving 28 cooperatives. These cooperatives have about 725,000 members. Although predominantly residential, 30-40 percent of Great River Energy sales go to commercial, industrial, and ag members.

Haase sees customer-participation in renewable energy in two ways. Great River Energy doesn’t get involved in discussions of small-scale solar or wind projects that are below 40 KW. However, these small projects can provide value by off-setting larger electrical loads.

For projects that are 40 KW or above, Great River Energy can work directly with those larger facilities under a joint implementation plan agreement that has been approved by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.

“What I will say is as you work with any renewable system, the first stop for members/consumers is their local cooperative,” Haase said. “They are going to be the ones to navigate what that process looks like and talk about what the objectives are.

“We are trying to see where there are opportunities to add load to consume onsite and provide value because that is often where the highest value product is – is using it locally instead of trying to sell it back to the market.”

Great River Energy President David Saggau’s comment was included in the May 2, 2022, Great River Energy blog. The blog was entitled,” Low-carbon future comes into focus.”

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