Power to the people takes on a whole new meaning with the rise of consumer-owned electric cooperatives. Just as co-ops are give us access to uniquely local produce and services, more and more people are joining together in the energy sector, showing there is a better way to power up.
One such organization, the Iowa Lakes Electric Cooperative (ILEC), was presented with the 11th annual 2011 Wind Cooperative of the Year Award by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) and the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association.
The ILEC won out over 11 other electric cooperatives, judged by an expert panel on corporate leadership, creative marketing, project innovation and benefits to customers. Innovation and effectiveness were two of the key components that secured the win for ILEC. They completed a 21-megawatt wind energy project in only 18 months—the fastest an electric distribution cooperative has designed, financed and completed a wind energy project of this scale. Using an existing substation infrastructure, they avoided building a new, transmission-level connection to the electric grid and saved the project quite a bit of time as well as approximately $5 million.
Whether or not they were surprised at the recognition, the ILEC is certainly pleasantly surprised with the success of the Iowa wind farm, which started out 2012 as a bit of an overachiever. One of the downsides to wind or solar power is its variability. Energy companies can’t exactly rely on the “if we build it, the wind will come” mentality for wind farms, so instead they must make educated decisions on where to install one through studying historical patterns.