Innovation for all - Carolina Country

Innovation for all

by Donnie Spivey

By Donnie Spivey

Donnie Spivey

Electric cooperatives have experienced a lot of change over the years. What started out as a necessity — bringing power to those who lived in rural areas in the 1930s— has since turned into something greater: a commitment to improve the quality of life in the communities we serve. We are locally owned and operated, and are driven to support our communities in the same way we’re driven to provide our members with affordable, reliable electricity.

This mission directly corresponds to our members’ satisfaction and engagement, areas we continuously strive to improve. These days, improving lives and communities means innovating to match your needs to technological advances, including power generation.

This innovation is demonstrated by electric cooperatives across North Carolina and the nation as they add solar power to their energy portfolios. Solar energy is popular among many of our members, but it can be cost prohibitive. Other barriers that prevent interested members from installing solar at their homes include tree shading, roof size and weight restrictions, availability of land or space, or not owning your residence.

Many electric cooperatives are introducing community solar farms as a solution. With community solar farms, solar panels are grouped together and the costs and energy output associated with the installation are shared, making it a more affordable and accessible option for all cooperative members.

When Pee Dee Electric brought its community solar farm online in 2015, Roy Hipple of Marshville proudly joined the local solar movement, said his wife, Margaret, and though he passed away shortly after signing up, it is a part of his legacy that will live on.

“Roy believed in the importance of reducing our impact on the earth, and was so excited when Pee Dee announced the community solar farm,” said Margaret Hipple. “The solar farm provided a way for us to participate in something bigger than ourselves that would have a positive impact on the environment.”

Community solar also supports the cooperative’s “all of the above” energy strategy needed to keep electric bills affordable. While energy efficiency programs and renewable energy are important components of our energy future, we firmly believe our nation also needs electricity generated from traditional sources, like nuclear and natural gas plants. Combined with these traditional sources, renewable energy resources will ensure we have an adequate and reliable supply of electricity that is affordable.

Pee Dee Electric also understood the impact a community solar farm could have on education in our community. Schools, civic groups, youth camps and members visit the solar farm to learn how power is generated, the economics of solar generation and how those concepts relate to the cooperative’s purpose of providing reliable and affordable electricity.

Response to the community solar farm from both members and the community has been positive. The solar farm demonstrates our commitment to innovation and education, commitments to our members that go well beyond simply providing electricity.

Community solar not only provides our members with an option when it comes to energy and efficiency, but it also positions electric cooperatives at the forefront of innovation when it comes to meeting member needs. Electric cooperatives will continue to develop effective strategies for incorporating renewable energy into their power portfolios in ways that give members control and flexibility while also ensuring the continued safe, reliable and affordable delivery of electricity to all cooperative members.

About the Author

Donnie Spivey is CEO and executive vice president of Pee Dee Electric, the Touchstone Energy cooperative serving more than 20,000 member-accounts in Anson, Richmond and parts of Montgomery, Scotland, Moore, Stanly and Union counties. He also serves on the board for GreenCo Solutions, formed by the state’s electric cooperatives to assist in their renewable energy and energy efficiency activities.

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