SEPA Award winners announced at solar conference

Utility companies, cooperatives and industry leaders recognized for leadership, innovation.

Several companies were recognized during annual SEPA awards presentation at SPI 2014 in Las Vegas earlier this fall. Following are the recipients: 

Warren McKenna, general manager of Farmers Electric Cooperative of Kalona, Iowa, was named ‘Utility CEO of the Year’ as a result of his leadership in making one of the smallest utilities in the United States – Farmers has about 650 members — a national model for a hands-on, keep-it-simple approach to financing and building solar energy projects. The co-op helped a Mennonite high school install a 51 kW solar system, with students and their families pitching in on the construction.  Farmers also launched a local feed-in-tariff to support member-owned installations at farms and homes and built out a community solar garden that always has a waiting list. In addition, Farmers recently powered up its first solar project that is privately financed through a PPA set up so that after 10 years the cooperative will own the 800-kW plant — currently the largest in Iowa. 
As a founding member of the Iowa Solar Energy Trade Association, McKenna also has become a statewide voice for solar. 

“"Warren McKenna is proof that industry-leading innovation can come to life at the smallest of utilities,” said Julia Hamm, president and CEO of the Solar Electric Power Association (SEPA).  “Warren has provided his co-op members with the opportunity to invest in local solar in ways that build a supply of clean power for the benefit of the entire utility.  He also sets a great example of how utilities and solar providers can work together in win-win business partnerships.” 

In addition to recognizing individuals, SEPA awarded several utility companies at the show: Georgia Power (Investor-Owned Utility of the Year); the City of Palo Alto Utilities (Municipal Utility); and the Southern Maryland Electric Cooperative (Cooperative of the Year). 

Georgia Power was honored for its leadership in building the nation’s largest and most rapidly growing voluntary renewable energy portfolio.  Responding to urgings from a wide variety of stakeholders — including advocacy groups, private citizens and the state’s public utilities commission — the utility established an acquisition and development model that tripled the company’s solar resources in less than two years. Georgia Power is now slated to add more than 1,400 MW of renewable resources by 2016, making the state a regional solar powerhouse. Another innovative program, the Advanced Solar Initiative, will develop 735 MW worth of various technologically advanced but cost effective solar resources in the state -- without pushing up power rates.  The utility is also collaborating with the United States Military to develop 90 MW worth of solar facilities on military bases in the state.

The City of Palo Alto Utilities earned the 2014 award as a result of its leadership and innovation in demonstrating solar energy’s viability as a mainstream power source. It hascontinuously increased the size of its solar electric portfolio, including a recent PPA with 8minutenergy that puts the city on track to run on 100-per cent carbon-free power by 2017. The utility also offers customers a full set of solar services and incentives, including residential and commercial rebate programs, expedited permit processing, premium options allowing customers to further support green power purchases, workshops and one-on-one advice, and coordination with industry representatives. It has established a feed-in-tariff for third parties interested in investing in solar installations on local businesses and selling the energy back to the utility. Most recently, the city approved a plan aimed at providing 4 per cent of its energy needs from local solar installations by 2023. The plan includes a community solar component that will encourage solar development on schools, office buildings and other community buildings. 

The Southern Maryland Electric Cooperative (SMECO) earned the Electric Cooperative Utility of the Year honor as a result of its leadership and commitment to meeting Maryland’s renewable energy targets with locally generated solar power. As a regulated, single-distribution utility with 156,000 members, SMECO decided against the possibly easier path of fulfilling part of its renewable goals by purchasing renewable energy credits. Instead, it developed a 5.5 MW solar project on land previously used for tobacco farming, which it financed by creating a separate entity that was able to take advantage of the federal income tax credits then available in the form of a Treasury Department cash grant. Going this route required the co-op to win special permissions and waivers from the Maryland Public Service Commission. A second, 10 MW project financed through a private power purchase agreement is scheduled to go online in early 2015, ensuring SMECO can meet its state-mandated renewable goals through 2018. 

Finally, SEPA named Clean Power Research the winner of the ‘Innovative Solar Partner of the Year” award — a new category for 2014. Clean Power Research was recognized for its leadership and commitment to working with utilities to develop online services aimed at streamlining the interconnection process for PV solar projects and reducing the “soft costs” of solar permitting, installation and inspection. Most recently, it partnered with NV Energy to develop the next generation of its PowerClerk software, the newly launched PowerClerk Interconnect. The updated package will allow utilities to expedite approval of interconnection applications by taking current paper and mail-based processes online, from aggregating building permits and interconnection agreements to communicating with customers via automatically generated emails at various stages of the application process. It also allows utilities to capture system specifications for all solar systems, whether or not they are receiving state-level incentives. 

ave the date for SPI 2015: September 14 –17 in Anaheim, California.


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Energy efficiency  •  Energy infrastructure  •  Photovoltaics (PV)  •  Policy, investment and markets  •  Solar electricity