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By Katie Siegnerm, Mark Dyson, & Gabriella Tosado

Despite serving only 13 percent of US electricity load, electric cooperatives loom large in conversations about the US energy system’s past, present, and future. The initial vision for nonprofit electric co-ops dates back to the New Deal, when the Rural Electrification Act of 1936 authorized the creation of co-ops to serve rural areas bypassed by the larger electricity providers of the time. Today, 832 distribution co-ops and 63 generation and transmission (G&T) co-ops still serve the majority of rural America, including more than 90 percent of persistent poverty counties (counties with at least 20 percent of their population living in poverty).

As the energy transition ramps up, bringing the benefits of low-cost renewable energy to more and more places, electric co-ops the opportunity to replace their aging coal fleets with wind and solar projects. This can lower electric bills and drive rural economic development in areas that need it.

“If You Know One Co-op…”

Through several years of engagements with co-op leadership and stakeholders, we have learned that electric co-ops face unique and varied constraints as well as incentives when it comes to decarbonizing their generation mix. Co-ops have lagged other utilities in retiring their coal plants, although a spate of coal retirement announcements and emissions reduction goals set by several prominent G&Ts in the past year indicates they may be closing that gap. A combination of rapidly falling costs for renewable energy and battery storage technologies, state climate policy, and member demand for carbon-free electricity is driving that shift.

Nonetheless, a number of G&T co-ops are continuing to operate aging and increasingly uneconomic coal plants without plans for their retirement. This can be due to the nature of some co-op financing structures as well as regulatory and governance models that muddy the economic signal for retirement. For example, coal plants may have undepreciated value that the G&Ts are seeking to recover, and in some cases, they act as the collateral on G&T debt obligations, making their retirement a risk to lenders.

What’s more, co-ops’ nonprofit status limits their ability to take advantage of existing tax credits for wind and solar development. And G&Ts with a history of asset ownership may be reluctant to shift toward greater shares of third-party-owned generation (e.g., wind and solar projects contracted for through power purchase agreements).

In short, co-ops’ situations and needs are as varied as the geographies they serve — as the saying goes, “if you know one co-op, then you know one co-op.” As such, there hasn’t yet been a silver bullet approach that can overcome the barriers to full co-op participation in the clean energy transition.

Federal Policy Can Support and Speed the Co-op Energy Transition

Policy intervention can smooth the path forward for the cooperative energy transition by allowing G&Ts to retire uneconomic coal and replace their fossil generation with clean energy alternatives. This could spur rural economic development and clean tech asset ownership opportunities while at the same time lowering member electricity bills.

Today, federal policymakers have the opportunity to facilitate a coal-to-clean transition among electric co-ops through investment that incents co-ops to retire their coal assets and replace them with renewable generation. The White House includes funding for transitioning rural co-ops to clean energy in its American Jobs Plan, and additional proposals outline incentives that would be available to co-ops for each kW of coal that they replace with clean energy. These proposals also provide direct support to impacted coal plant and mine communities.

The replacement of rural cooperative coal with wind and solar would yield economic development benefits stemming from the construction and operation of those projects, largely in rural communities. Our analysis shows that the tax revenues, land lease payments, and wages generated by these projects, in addition to their low-cost electricity, have the potential to more than offset any cost of the policy.

Planting Seeds of Opportunity in Co-op Territory

To quantify the benefits that might accrue to rural communities from a policy that facilitates co-op coal retirement and re-investment in clean energy, we developed estimates for the direct local revenues that new wind and solar projects could produce in the states where the coal was retired based on our Seeds of Opportunity report methodology. The analysis uses the capacity expansion model from UC-Berkeley and GridLab’s 2035 Report to estimate the share of wind and solar projects that would be built in a particular state, as well as the report’s state-level capacity factors for wind and solar.

While we assumed full generation replacement with wind and solar, the economic development benefits could vary based on the actual choices co-ops make upon retiring their coal fleets. For instance, the addition of battery storage, transmission assets, energy efficiency projects, and other clean energy technologies that might be needed could yield additional revenue streams and energy bill savings over and above what is captured here.

The coal plants captured in this analysis are at least partially owned by co-ops and extend across 23 states and 33 co-op territories. Arkansas and North Dakota, the two states with the most coal plants (five each) that might take advantage of federal policy incentives to retire, could see $4.8 billion and $4.2 billion, respectively, from replacing their co-op coal generation with new wind and solar projects.

In Ohio, retiring the 1,265 MW Cardinal coal plant could spur over 4,000 MW of wind and solar project development, contributing nearly $2 billion in revenues to the state’s rural economy. Florida’s even larger Seminole coal plant, should it utilize federal policy incentives to retire, could pave the way for 4,400 MW of solar projects that would generate $2.3 billion in economic development to rural parts of the state.

The map and table below illustrate the location of all coal plants with a share of co-op ownership and the new wind and solar capacity that would be needed to offset each plant’s 2019 annual generation. We then show the economic development that these projects would produce over the course of their lifetimes.

Click image for full table as PDF.

We recognize that coal plant retirements raise questions about maintaining the reliability of the local electric grid. The wind and solar replacement capacity modeled here indicates what would be needed to fully replace the annual generation of the retiring coal, but of course, the grid reliability considerations are more complex.

In some cases, the co-op territory or region may have excess capacity on the system, which is a fairly prevalent characteristic of regional grids, as we document in a recent white paper. This makes replacement capacity unnecessary. In other cases, the co-op may need new capacity as well as other grid resources such as flexible demand or storage to maintain system reliability. These solutions will be developed on a co-op-by-co-op basis — what is shown here is the local economic upside that any new renewables capacity would bring.

Co-ops Can Be Renewable Energy Leaders

Co-ops are poised to play a leading role in enabling rural America to reap the benefits of wind and solar development. Federal policy that unlocks this potential is likely to see a strong return on investment in the form of jobs and revenues flowing to rural residents, landowners, and communities.

A $10 billion investment to support co-ops’ energy transition efforts as contemplated in the Biden Administration’s American Jobs Plan would yield just over $50 billion in wind and solar-induced economic development revenues — benefits five times greater than the cost of the policy. Coupled with the lower operating cost of renewable energy and transition support to impacted communities, a modest federal incentive could provide outsized economic benefits to rural communities and position cooperatives to be renewable energy leaders.


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IEA downgrades oil demand growth forecast as prices heat up on elevated Middle East tensions

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IEA downgrades oil demand growth forecast as prices heat up on elevated Middle East tensions

An oil pumpjack is shown near the Callon Petroleum vicinity on March 27, 2024 in Monahans, Texas. 

Brandon Bell | Getty Images

The International Energy Agency on Friday downgraded its forecast for 2024 oil demand growth, citing “exceptionally weak” OECD deliveries, a largely complete post-Covid-19 rebound and an expanding electric vehicle fleet.

In its latest monthly oil market report, the IEA said it had revised down its 2024 oil demand growth forecast by around 100,000 barrels per day (bpd) to 1.2 million bpd.

The global energy watchdog said that it expected the pace of expansion to decelerate even further to 1.1 million bpd next year “as the post-Covid 19 rebound has run its course.”

The IEA’s report comes amid a rebound in oil prices on elevated Middle East tensions, with energy market participants closely monitoring the prospect of supply disruptions from the oil-producing region.

Iran, which is a member of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries, has vowed to retaliate after it accused Israel of bombing its embassy in the Syrian capital of Damascus earlier this month.

The attack has ratcheted up tensions in a region already grappling with the ongoing Israel-Hamas war. Israel has not claimed responsibility for the attack.

International benchmark Brent crude futures with June delivery traded 0.8% higher at $90.45 per barrel on Friday at 9:30 a.m. in London, while U.S. West Texas Intermediate futures with May delivery rose nearly 1% to trade at $85.84 per barrel.

“We’re seeing the surge in [electric vehicle] sales, especially in China and also in Europe, really taking into gasoline demand, but also in the United States,” Toril Bosoni, head of oil industry and markets division at the IEA, told CNBC’s “Street Signs Europe” on Friday.

“There has been a lot of talk about sales not increasing as much as maybe was expected, but EV sales and increased fuel efficiencies in the car fleet is lowering gasoline demand, at least in advanced economies and particularly in China.”

Asked about some of the main concerns relating to oil supply security, Bosoni replied, “We are watching, obviously, the Middle East very closely. The continued tanker attacks in the Red Sea is of key concern, but also escalating tensions between Iran and Israel, and then we’re seeing tensions between Russia and Ukraine continue, with attacks on Russian refineries.”

“So, there are several tension points in the oil market today that we’re watching very closely that could have major impacts … if there would be any significant outages,” she added.

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Tesla unveils new Sport Seats to absorb Model S Plaid’s insane power

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Tesla unveils new Sport Seats to absorb Model S Plaid's insane power

Tesla has unveiled new Sport Seats for the Model S Plaid to absorb the electric supercar’s insane power better.

While it’s in the form of a family sedan, the Model S Plaid could easily pass as an electric supercar with its 1.99-second 0 to 60 mph acceleration.

That’s more power than anyone would need, but it is fun.

Some Model S Plaid owners even like to take the fun to the racetrack. When cornering, you can really feel the Gs on the racetrack.

Tesla’s Model S seats are comfortable, but they are not designed for super-spirited driving, which the rest of the vehicle enables.

Today, Tesla decided to address the issue with the release of new Sports Seats:

They obviously feature much more pronounced side support. Here are the main features of the seats:

  • Increased lateral support
  • Modular seat architecture for comfort & support, plus same 12-way power adjust, heating & ventilation
  • High performance suede for increased grip & reduced weight

Here’s another look at the new seats:

The seats are now standard for the $90,000 Model S Plaid and included on all cars built since the beginning of the month.

Electrek’s Take

We had known new sports seats were coming to the new Model 3 Performance, which is expected to be unveiled any day, but it makes sense that the Model S Plaid would get them first.

The vehicle’s level of performance deserves sports seats.

I am surprised that Tesla is making it standard rather than a paid option, but we’ll take it.

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Daily EV Recap: China looks to export EVs by the hundreds of thousands

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Listen to a recap of the top stories of the day from Electrek. Quick Charge is now available on Apple PodcastsSpotifyTuneIn and our RSS feed for Overcast and other podcast players.

New episodes of Quick Charge are recorded Monday through Thursday and again on Saturday. Subscribe to our podcast in Apple Podcast or your favorite podcast player to guarantee new episodes are delivered as soon as they’re available.

Stories we discuss in this episode (with links):

Formula E again delays debut of 600kW mid-race charging

This lamppost EV charger just went commercial in the US

Tesla releases more details on Powerwall 3, confirms cheaper stack coming

Electric cars are saving Americans billions — even people who don’t drive them

China is exporting so many EVs that it needs more ships – a lot more

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