ENN cites low-cost wind energy as the leading factor, along with demand management technology that helps shave costs during peak times.

Great River’s wholesale price doesn’t necessarily ripple down to co-op members, but in many cases it does. That includes Connexus, which has a long term contract with Great River.

If Great River rings a bell, you may be thinking of the electric co-op that is hosting a somewhat mysterious new energy storage system backed by Bill Gates. Opposition to new wind farms or not, Great River Energy also plans to add 900 more megawatts to its existing wind portfolio of 600 megawatts, within the next two years.

More Solar Panels For Everybody

For the record, all is not sweetness and light among electric co-ops, and long term contracts can inhibit their ability to pivot into new clean power sources.

Electricity users have other options, though. One of them is rooftop PV panels, a small but growing area of activity in Minnesota.

The agrivoltaics movement, aka solar-plus-farming, is also sending more solar panels out to the countryside. Minnesota has become a hotspot of activity in that area, and farmers are not the only ones to benefit.  Semi-rural and rural corporate campuses can also host solar panels that support pollinator habitats, grazing lands, and other agri-friendly usage.

One especially cool example is the Aveda campus in Blaine, Minnesota, which doubles as a certified 58-acre habitat, but we digress.

US Department Of Agriculture Hearts PV On Farms

The US Department of Agriculture is another factor driving PV adoption in rural areas. The agency’s REAP energy loan program for farmers included loans for solar panels, among other clean power goodies, for farmers in Minnesota and elsewhere during the Obama administration, and it survived into the 2018 Farm Bill during the Trump administration.

Earlier this week, the USDA announced that it is turning its attention to rural towns as well as farms. The new Rural Energy Pilot Program has a pot of $10 million available “to help people living in rural towns develop community renewable energy projects that will help them cut their energy costs and contribute to the nationwide effort to reduce pollution that contributes to climate change. ”

“These funds will be targeted to help people who live in communities that have been historically underinvested and disinvested,” USDA adds.

Solar panels made the cut, along with wind, geothermal, micro-hydroelectric, and biomass or other forms of bioenergy.

If you want in, there is still time. Check out the Rural Energy Pilot Program web page and get your Letter of Intent in there by 11:59 p.m. EST on April 19, 2022.

All (Renewable Energy) Politics Is Local

All this activity could lead to increased support for renewable energy in rural areas, even if it doesn’t reflect in political affiliation.

Last June the Pew Research Center took the nation’s temperature on renewable energy and found that “most U.S. adults continue to support expanding solar panel farms (84%) and wind turbine farms (77%), but Republicans and Democrats are increasingly divided in views on these two energy sources.”

So what else is new?

“Among Republicans and Republican-leaning independents, support for increasing reliance on solar power is down from 84% last year to 73% today, while support for more wind power dropped from 75% in 2020 to 62% today,” Pew explains, while “Around nine-in-ten Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents continue to support expanding solar (93%) and wind power (91%).”

From a glass half full perspective, a strong majority of Republicans still support wind and solar power. Assuming the year-to-year decline is a blip and not a long term trend, the poll suggests that rural voters are still inclined to support renewable energy, if not for the environmental benefits, then at least on account of the bottom line.

The falling cost of wind and solar power could soon send public opinion swinging upward again. After all, when saving money on household utility bills is involved, who could hate it?

Follow me on Twitter @TinaMCasey.

Photo: The US Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory supports research on solar panels in agriculture (photo by Dennis Schroeder, NREL).