October 29, 2018 Read More →

Minnesota co-op commissions state’s largest solar-plus-storage project

Minnesota Public Radio:

When Sam Villella became a father, solar energy went from being cool to being imperative. Villella, who lives in Blaine, Minn., installed solar panels on his roof and bought an electric car. Then he tried getting his utility company, Connexus Energy, to start thinking like him.

Connexus is an electric cooperative, the largest of 28 such co-ops that make up Great River Energy. It has 130,000 member-owners in the northern Twin Cities suburbs. Member-owners vote for board members who oversee the cooperative.

“Ten years ago, they thought this was not the future and that it was a passing phase, but I think as the costs have come down, they’ve really recognized — no, this is the future. They’ve really changed course,” Villella said.

On Thursday, Connexus unveiled the state’s first large-scale solar-plus battery storage project, built on two sites: one in the city of Ramsey and the other in Athens Township. No other electric cooperative in the country has anything like it — yet.

A few years ago, Connexus polled its membership to find out if people wanted more renewable energy. The answer, overwhelmingly, was yes. But most people didn’t want to pay more for it. In the past, those results would have meant staying the course and continuing to use power generated mostly from coal. In Great River Energy’s member co-ops, that power comes from two coal plants in North Dakota, hundreds of miles away, and wind power in recent years.

But things are different now, said Greg Ridderbusch, Connexus Energy’s CEO. Solar-plus storage is now affordable, at least when electricity is the most expensive at those peak times of day. “It’s no doubt that storage is a disruptor,” Ridderbusch said.

More: Future arrives in Minnesota as electric cooperative unveils battery project

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