In the Upper Midwest, the Izaak Walton League, an environmental group composed largely of fishers and hunters based in Minneapolis, Minnesota, is promoting the concept of the Community Energy Cooperative (CEC). In the envisioned co-op, municipal utilities and rural electric co-ops - as well as local governments - would aggregate loads in order to develop new regional wind resources. Entities cooperating in the plan include the Iowa Association of Municipal Utilities, the Minnesota Municipal Utility Association and the Missouri Basin Municipal Power Agency (the last agency comprising 58 municipal utility members from four states). Participants hope to develop a joint planning and financing model for new wind power facilities that could be duplicated throughout the country. The CEC would offer services to reduce member bills through aggressive energy efficiency upgrades. In addition, the CEC would hope to use tax-exempt financing to cut costs associated with renewable energy sources.
Only a few municipal utilities have developed renewable resources in the past; obstacles include a lack of expertise in emerging technologies, access to cheap hydropower, and contractual obligations to purchase all of their power supply incumbent utilities. But proponents of the CEC say the restructuring of the electric utility industry offers new opportunities for joint development projects.
A co-op enhances the competitive position of public power providers by providing a vehicle for expanding the cooperative model well beyond the geographic confines of current municipal and rural co-op systems. The CEC hopes to target residential, small commercial, non-profit, institutional and local government customers. Because the cost premium associated with new wind energy facilities is the smallest among renewable options,34 wind energy is the most attractive renewable energy option.
The Community Energy Co-op ambitiously hopes to enroll 10-25 percent of eligible electricity customers in targeted states and 33-66 percent of current customers of rural electric co-ops and municipal utilities.35