We love working with electric cooperatives and municipal utilities. That’s not only because we get to work with inspiring people, but because co-ops and munis are uniquely positioned for system-wide adoption of renewables and the transition to a cleaner and more equitable power system.
Why? As community-focused non-profits, electric cooperatives and municipal utilities are largely exempt from state utility regulatory structures. So they can often choose to invest in community resources like solar, wind and storage. They can adopt member engagement programs to encourage flexibility and help members offset energy costs and encourage beneficial electrification through efforts like hot water heater and battery financing programs.
Big utilities can do this too, but the regulatory approvals can take years. Co-ops and munis just don’t have to deal with that. If they want to experiment with novel pricing options (like time of use, real time pricing, or flat rate structures), they just do it.
Co-ops and munis are also at the forefront of the changing economic incentives of the grid. If many residents install local solar, the impact of lost revenue is immediately felt – and the transition of cost burden to low income customers happens rapidly. So they are motivated to act.
The transition to renewables can offer a way out of a bind. Solar or wind are a lot cheaper in many places, so by adopting community renewables, and providing incentives for private solar/storage investments to be grid supporting, co-ops and munis can manage costs and lower carbon. Local utilities are often also grappling with frontline climate impacts from fires and storms, and the resilience benefits of local renewables offer a way to maintain reliability.
The community focus of these utilities drives a unique emphasis on community level solutions. That is powerful, because the energy transition needs to be a collective effort – connecting demand flexibility at the grid’s edges to make best use of low-cost renewables. This transition can be a big win for communities, for low and middle income folks, and even for utilities. This mix of motivation and opportunity is why we love working with community utilities – that’s where change is happening fastest.
When we think about the future of the grid, we envision the emergence of “community-centric” DSOs (Distribution System Operators), utilities who harness local resources to bring the benefits of a cleaner, stronger grid to their communities. And no one is better positioned to lead the transition to that future than the electric cooperatives and municipal utilities working at the forefront of change.
For the full story on why we think co-ops and munis are positioned to lead, check out our newest whitepaper series.
And if you’re an electric cooperative or municipal utility thinking about how you can better manage the clean energy transition, we’d love to hear from you.