Dairyland power cooperative brings solar opportunities to rural Midwest


By Stephanie Enloe, former staff member

Renewable energy brings big benefits to the American economy. Case in point: the rising solar industry. By 2015, solar was contributing $18 billion dollars a year to our economy and, according to the latest reports, this same industry has created nearly 209,000 jobs.

The Center contends rural Americans should have a slice of that pie and benefit from the investment and well-paid jobs attached to the renewable energy economy. Fortunately, more and more rural electric cooperatives agree and have been exploring strategies to help their customer-owners tap into opportunities created by advances in renewable energy technology.

Dairyland Power Cooperative - a generation and transmission cooperative serving members in Wisconsin, Iowa, Minnesota and Illinois - is one such leader.

On Oct. 7, Dairyland announced a new partnership with Western Technical College to expand the utility’s Solar for Schools initiative. The initiative officially launched earlier this year on Earth Day, when Dairyland announced they would work with three western Wisconsin schools to install small solar arrays. The 12 kilowatt systems will provide low-cost power for the schools and the corresponding Data Acquisition Systems will serve as valuable education tools.

The project with Western Technical dramatically expands the initiative, as Dairyland and Western have installed four solar arrays that will provide about 16,000 kilowatt hours to Western’s Independence campus.

Not only will the solar arrays lower energy costs for the school, they will create job training opportunities. Students will study output data and other metrics from the arrays, learn the basics of solar installation, and practice maintaining a solar PV system. Through this program, Western will train young people for good jobs that allow them to remain in the rural Midwest.

Katie Thomson, a communications specialist for Dairyland Power, described the motivation behind the Solar for Schools program: “As a cooperative, we are guided by the Cooperative Principles when making business decisions. The Cooperative Principle, Education, Training and Information, provides guidance to Dairyland on initiatives like Solar for Schools.” She touted the multiple benefits of the program: “The projects support both Dairyland’s mission — to power our communities and empower cooperative members to improve the quality of their lives — and our commitment to the communities we serve.”

The Center applauds Dairyland Power, Western Technical College, and others like them for their foresight and their contribution to rural economic development.

Feature photo: Leaders from Dairyland Power Cooperative and Western Technical College celebrate the new solar array on the Western campus in Independence, Wis. | Photo submitted