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Connexus Energy Becomes Nation’s First Electric Co-Op to Bilk Its Members With Solar Plus Storage, Hooray!

Connexus Energy has become the first electric co-op in the country to bilk its 130,000 owner-members by forcing them to pay $31 million in additional costs for unneeded solar plus battery storage.

Hooray!

I’ve written about this project before, and as a reminder, the two solar gardens being built will have a whopping 10 MW of capacity, which is the equivalent of 0.056 percent of the installed electricity generating capacity in the state. The batteries will be able to feed 15 MW into the grid at a time and store 30 MWH of electricity, enough for two whole hours! Whoopee!

It would be one thing if the members of the co-op wanted more renewables, and were willing to pay higher prices for the privilege, but according to a story in MPR, that was not the case:

A few years ago, Connexus polled its membership to find out if people wanted more renewable energy. The answer, overwhelmingly, was yes. But most people didn’t want to pay more for it.

Connexus claims the plan will ultimately save money its members about $4 million per year by allowing them to feed electricity to the grid when the cost for power is highest, but I am skeptical.

Data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration show solar panels in Minnesota only generate about 15 percent of their rated capacity, meaning the 10 MW solar displays will probably generate about 1.5 MW of energy. Maybe the panels generate enough power to fully charge the batteries, maybe they don’t.

However, the co-op could probably save more money by foregoing the solar and only purchasing battery storage. The co-op could then participate in energy arbitrage, which is just a fancy way of saying they would buy power from the grid when prices are lowest, generally when demand is low during the night, and then feed it into the grid at peak demand to reduce the charges incurred by its members.

Ultimately, this project is about ribbon cutting and making people feel warm fuzzy feelings about investing in solar energy. In my opinion, it’s a solar-powered dumpster fire. Richard Painter would be proud!

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