3 Rural Electric Cooperatives Awarded DOE Funds for Microgrid Projects

Aug. 11, 2023
Co-ops in Tennessee, South Carolina and Florida were awarded $100,000 to advance their proposed microgrid projects.

Rural utility microgrids are one step closer to fruition in Tennessee, South Carolina and Florida. The National Rural Electric Cooperative Association (NRECA) recently announced that three of its members were among the winners of phase one of the Department of Energy’s (DOE) Energizing Rural Communities Prize.

Tennessee’s Holston Electric Cooperative, South Carolina’s Horry Electric Cooperative and Florida’s SECO Energy were awarded a total of $100,000 to advance their proposed microgrid projects.

In July, the Department of Energy (DOE) announced sixty-seven phase one winners. A part of the DOE’s $1 billion Energy Improvements in Rural or Remote Areas program, the prize is administered by the DOE’s Office of Clean Energy Demonstrations (OCED) and was funded through the Bipartisan Infrastructure law.

There are two tracks for the Energizing Rural Communities Prize. Individuals or organizations on the partner track will use the funds to create networks to aid in the implementation of energy projects. The finance track supports new and innovative efforts to bankroll energy projects, such as community ownership models.

Phase one winners were awarded $100,000 and in-kind mentorship services; winners can also compete in phase two next year, where they could win an additional $200,000.

“These prizes are designed to accelerate community-driven energy improvement projects in rural or remote areas across the country,” said  U.S. Secretary of Energy Jennifer Granholm.

A cheaper alternative to stringing wires

“Microgrids are becoming cheaper alternative solutions to expensive and time-consuming transmission and distribution projects,” said Tolu Omotoso, NRECA’s energy solutions director, according to the NRECA release about the awards.

Lower infrastructure costs, as well as increased reliability, make the solution particularly appealing to rural electric cooperatives, such as NRECA’s members.

In Rogersville, Tennessee, the Holston Electric Cooperative will use its prize money to advance a proposed microgrid project designed to improve service to rural customers in upper east Tennessee. The co-op’s proposal includes a 10-kW solar array, 20 kWh of battery storage and backup generators.

“We expect microgrids to boost our overall reliability by as much as 80%, reducing prolonged outages and inconveniences after storms, and improve power quality in sparsely populated areas,” Jimmy Sandlin, CEO of Holston Electric Cooperative, said in the NRECA release.

South Carolina’s Horry Electric Cooperative serves rural communities in the hurricane prone northeastern section of the state. The co-op’s proposal includes siting a microgrid at a local high school. Already a designated shelter during and after severe weather events, the school has backup generation in place as well as the open space to install a solar array.

The microgrid could also power electric bus and vehicle charging infrastructure and support neighboring homes and businesses in the wake of a major storm-related power outage.

“We envision a project that could provide sustainable power for up to four weeks while major restoration could be under way,” said Reed Cooper, manager of engineering for Horry Electric Cooperative.

In Sumterville, Florida, SECO Energy is partnering with Lake-Sumter State College (LSSC) on its proposed microgrid. The project, which includes a 1.4-MW solar array and an 876-kWh lithium-ion battery storage system, would be sited on college grounds and serve both the campus and customers living nearby.

As a part of its microgrid project, SECO is working with LSSC on workforce development to train community members for the rapidly growing number of energy sector jobs.

Other examples of rural electric microgrids

As Microgrid Knowledge reported earlier this year, rural electric cooperatives are increasingly turning to microgrids to increase resiliency.

Southern California’s Anza Electric Cooperative installed a microgrid in 2020 that helps the cooperative better manage public power safety shutoffs (PSPS) in the fire-prone area. Anza is fully reliant on Southern California Edison’s power lines to import power.

Orcas Power and Light Cooperative has also set up a microgrid on Decatur Island, off the coast of Washington state. The 500-kW system is just one of several island microgrids planned by the company.

According to the NRECA, its members will use the phase one prize money to pay for preliminary engineering studies.

About the Author

Kathy Hitchens | Special Projects Editor

I work as a writer and special projects editor for Microgrid Knowledge. I have over 30 years of writing experience, working with a variety of companies in the renewable energy, electric vehicle and utility sector, as well as those in the entertainment, education, and financial industries. I have a BFA in Media Arts from the University of Arizona and a MBA from the University of Denver.

Exploring the Potential of Community Microgrids Through Three Innovative Case Studies

April 8, 2024
Community microgrids represent a burgeoning solution to meet the energy needs of localized areas and regions. These microgrids are clusters of interconnected energy resources,...

Mgk Dcf Wp Cover3 2023 01 09 10 34 33

Data Center Microgrids: Implementing Your Microgrid

Beyond providing energy resilience, a microgrid brings additional energy management, cost and sustainability benefits. These features are making microgrids increasingly attractive...