Declining solar costs have helped spur a move away from coal
By John Fialka for Scientific American
In 2014, the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association studied what some of its members saw as a touchy subject: local electricity powered by the sun.
NRECA, based in Arlington, Va., is the trade association for 900 local rural electric co-ops that came to life in 1942, when its members were dependent on coal. Many derived 70 percent or more of their power from coal, while just 1 percent of co-ops had gone beyond experimenting with solar as late as 2013, according to a survey at the time.
Only 20 percent of its 42 million members seemed interested in having more solar power.
But things began to change quickly.
By 2015, as Donald Trump was launching his political ambitions with a promise to revive the U.S. coal industry, multiple co-ops were building larger solar arrays and finding innovative ways to get communities to plug into them. This year, the solar footprint of U.S. co-ops will have grown 10 times as large in four years, a journey NRECA describes in a recent report titled: “The Solar Revolution in Rural America.”