Spreading the Sunshine: Iowa’s Franklin Rural Electric Cooperative Adds Three Solar Arrays

Iowa is known for growing vast fields of corn during the sunny summer months. Now, a different form of sun power is lighting up homes, farms, and businesses in rural Iowa.

With the help of Solential Energy, the Franklin Rural Electric Cooperative (Franklin REC) has recently added three solar arrays as part of its commitment to deliver affordable, reliable, safe energy to 1,450 members across six counties in Northern Iowa. This includes Franklin, the southern third of Cerro Gordo, and portions of Butler, Floyd, Hardin, and Wright counties.

After holding an RFP, the Franklin REC awarded the contract to Carmel, Indiana-based Solential to design, engineer, build, and provide operations management and maintenance in May 2019.

Each of the three arrays has 558 solar panels that are mounted on a single-axis tracker system that follows the sun throughout the day to optimize energy production. The solar arrays generate a total of 594 kilowatts of power (DC). They are located at three sites that are approximately 30 miles apart to help stabilize the rural grid infrastructure.

The Franklin REC is one of a growing number of rural electric cooperatives across the United States adopting clean, renewable solar power. Traditionally, co-ops have relied on electricity generated by fossil fuel, primarily coal. Now, however, America’s rural electric cooperatives are incorporating more uses of renewable energy to their portfolios.

Momentum is growing, according to the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association (NRECA). In 2014, only 20 percent of the NRECA’s 900 members across the country expressed interest in adopting solar energy. However, just four short years later, the solar footprint of U.S. electric cooperatives increased tenfold. Currently, co-ops in 44 states include solar in their power mix. Georgia holds the top spot with 40 co-ops with solar. Indiana is number two with 39 co-ops. Iowa, home of the Franklin REC, is in fifth place with 25 co-ops with solar.

What’s driven the acceleration in solar adoption? New financing options, significantly lower costs of solar systems, better technology including battery storage, increased demand for renewable energy sources, and lower carbon emissions have made solar co-op extremely attractive to forward-thinking co-ops like the Franklin REC.

Like all Solential solar solutions, the Franklin REC arrays are protected by Solview, a proprietary real-time monitoring and management system that ensures each panel is performing at optimum capacity and detects potential issues. Both Franklin REC and Solential can monitor system performance by month, day, week, or other defined period using any smart device or desktop computer.

The Franklin REC solar arrays went live in December 2019, a month where the State of Iowa averages just 4.2 hours of sunshine per day. Overall, Iowa has 200 days of sunshine per year, a touch below the national average of 205 days.

Response to the Franklin REC’s new solar arrays has been positive, says Gordon Greimann, president of the Franklin REC. “Adding solar and other renewables to our energy mix was something our member-owners wanted us to consider. With help from our partners at Solential, Corn Belt Power and Basin Electric Power, we were able to bring three solar arrays online. Going forward, with information learned from these three new arrays, we will be able to better assist our member-owners who may be interested in solar. While it’s important to maintain baseload generation sources like coal and natural gas, the addition of solar to our energy mix helps us keep our goal of an ‘all-of-the-above’ energy portfolio.”

Solential CEO Jim Shaw says his company has worked with rural electric cooperatives across the Midwest and is appreciative of the opportunity. “Electric cooperatives are truly put their members first, whether it’s delivering reliable power at more affordable rates or contributing to a healthier community by using renewable energy like solar. We’re proud to have a role in powering rural America.”

About Solential Energy
Founded in 2009, Solential Energy is a solar energy developer that delivers custom energy solutions to communities across the United States. Solential specializes in the design, development, installation, and ongoing management of commercial solar-powered solutions with a primary focus of helping customers in the education, utility, municipal, agriculture, and commercial industries. Learn more.

About the Franklin Rural Electric Cooperative
The Franklin Rural Electric Cooperative, a Touchstone® Electric Cooperative, is an electrical distribution cooperative serving members since 1936. The member-owned, not-for-profit cooperative provides reliable, competitively priced electric energy to businesses, industries, farms and homes in six counties in Iowa, and REC maintains 1,450 points of service at homes, businesses, organizations, and farms distributed across approximately 800 miles of power lines. Learn more.