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Village of Minster gets SEPA's 'Public Power Utility of the Year' award

The small utility owned by the Village of Minster, Ohio, has been named "Public Power Utility of the Year" by the Smart Electric Power Alliance, or SEPA. The award — one of five 2016 Solar Power Players awards made by SEPA this year, will be presented to Minster on Sept. 13 during the Solar Power International conference in Las Vegas, Village Administrator Don Harrod told the American Public Power Association in a Sept. 1 interview.

The small village, with a population of 2,850, "may appear an unlikely innovator, but earlier this year, it brought a solar-plus-storage project online, with 4.2 megawatts of solar, 7 MW of storage and four different revenue streams," SEPA said in announcing the 2016 Solar Power Players awards.

"Minster is the first public power authority to develop a project of this kind, and the village is already hosting visits from other towns and cities interested in studying its model," SEPA said.

Developer American Renewable Energy, or ARE, worked with Minster to develop the solar and energy storage system; built the solar field; and lined up a firm, Half Moon Ventures, to secure private financing for the endeavor, Village Administrator Harrod said in the Sept. 1 interview. ARE also located another project partner, S&C Electric, which provided the energy storage system, he said.

The 4.2-MW solar project went online in December 2015, and the storage component — giant lithium-ion batteries in shipping containers — went online in April 2016, Harrod said.

The project has been working as anticipated, he said. In the winter months of January and February, the solar panels produced 250,000 to 300,000 kilowatt-hours per month. Between April and August, it produced approximately 500,000 kWh per month. The figure for August was 535,000 kWh, which is about 13 percent of the utility's power requirements, he said.

"In the summer, it does ramp up," he noted.

The energy storage part of the project "has improved our power quality," Harrod said. One of the project partners, Half Moon Ventures, has been selling energy from the Minster project into PJM's frequency regulation market.

The project was initially planned as a standalone solar plant, Harrod said. Then the Ohio legislature passed House Bill 301, which essentially eliminated the market for solar renewable energy certificates, putting a damper on financing for the Minster project.

"That's how we got into the energy storage aspect," Harrod explained. Adding storage was a way to keep the project going despite the lack of a market for the solar credits. As it turned out, the storage part of the project has been the distinctive element that has made the Minster project stand out, he said.

About half a dozen other public power utilities have contacted Minster, seeking to learn more about the solar/storage project, and have made field trips to the public power community to tour the facilities, Harrod said. The Public Utilities Commission of Ohio also has gotten in touch with Minster to ask about the project, he said.

"The Village of Minster has overcome government and market barriers to establish complex relationships with stakeholders to make this project economically feasible for its customers," said Paul Belnick, the New York Power Authority's vice president of integrated grid, who was one of the judges for the SEPA awards.

"By adding the storage to solar, Minster has been able to increase the value of the solar array to its customers through revenue stacking ... and demonstrate its forward-thinking leadership," he said.

Minster was among six public power utilities that were included on a top 10 list of utilities that added the most watts of solar power per customer in 2015, according to a list compiled by SEPA and released by the group in April.

A year ago, S&C Electric official Troy Miller described the Minster project as "one of the first examples of how a municipal utility can work with a developer to create multiple revenue streams that benefit both parties."

Pepco, Green Power EMC also win SEPA awards

Two other electric utilities, an investor-owned utility and a rural electric cooperative, also received 2016 Solar Power Players awards from SEPA.

The awards, now in their eighth year, "recognize electric utilities, their industry partners and individuals for creating programs embodying the innovation and collaboration that drive smart utility solar growth and expand consumer access to distributed energy technologies," SEPA said.

Pepco, based in Washington, D.C., was named SEPA's Investor-Owned Utility of the Year "for its research and development of automated tools to increase the amount of solar it can connect to its distribution system and to streamline the interconnection process for customers and installers," SEPA said. "With 26,000 solar systems online, 10,000 systems expected to power up in the near future, and approximately 2,000 residential interconnection applications coming in monthly, the utility and its technology partners have been testing new software applications and databases aimed at mapping and modeling solar."

Green Power EMC was named SEPA's Electric Cooperative of the Year "for helping 38 electric cooperatives across Georgia to implement a comprehensive solar strategy, upping these utilities' solar capacity under development from 7.5 megawatts to 240 MW," SEPA said. "By banding together, the co-ops were able to take advantage of economies of scale, resulting in very low-cost project power purchase agreements."

CEC, Nakafuji also recognized

The Colorado-based Clean Energy Collective received SEPA's Innovative Partner of the Year award for its deployment of a community solar development platform and toolkit that provides utilities with a turnkey option for starting community solar programs. To date, CEC has worked with 27 utility partners in 12 states, with more than 100 community solar projects built or under development, SEPA said.

Hometown Connections, the utility services subsidiary of the American Public Power Association, and the Clean Energy Collective announced in May 2016 that they will work together to help public power utilities offer community solar programs to customers.

SEPA said its fifth Solar Power Player award, for its 2016 Solar Champion, went to Dora Nakafuji for her leadership in "developing and deploying data-driven tools that Hawaiian Electric is now using to maintain grid reliability as it continues to integrate high levels of solar onto the grid, moving toward the state's goal of a power system run 100 percent on renewables by 2045."