BISMARCK, N.D. - Turning to Mother Nature is providing an ingenious solution for a North Dakota rural electric cooperative (REC) and some customers who lost power to livestock well pumps after an ice storm last spring. The fierce April 1-2, 2010 “Good Friday” winter storm caused more than $30 million in damages to RECs statewide. Shortly thereafter, President Obama issued a federal disaster declaration to provide assistance to restore power and assist the RECs with infrastructure repairs.
In many cases the work consisted of replacing broken poles and realigning them. In some areas, the RECs were able to bury lines, minimizing the threat of future damage. But for two sites in central North Dakota, options were limited. The sites serviced livestock wells, but would have required expensive infrastructure repairs to restore – costs that would have been difficult to recover on such a low revenue account.
Fortunately, Verendrye Electric Cooperative has had experience with just such sites and proposed a novel solution to FEMA – rather than replacing the lines into the sites, the co-op would install solar cells to power the wells. The result would be a lower cost for FEMA, the co-op, and the power customer, a true win-win-win situation.
Verendrye has a proven track record with such systems.
“We have about 220 solar sites in our service area,” said Tom Jespersen, Verendrye Electric energy adviser. “In the past we have installed them in isolated areas where lines didn’t exist. This was the first instance of installing solar rather than replacing damaged line.”
The innovative alternative made sense to both federal and state disaster recovery officials. FEMA and the North Dakota Department of Emergency Services (NDDES) worked with Verendrye to write up the project, a unique best practice being funded under the FEMA Public Assistance (PA) program. Installation of the solar panels provided a $29,000 cost savings over the alternative.
“Any time an applicant can identify a more cost effective way to restore service, we will explore it,” said Greg Wilz, NDDES Deputy Director. “And if it also happens to use a renewable energy source, that’s just icing on the cake.”
The PA program provides funding to state and local governments, Indian Tribes, and certain private non-profits (such as RECs) to repair or replace damaged infrastructure. FEMA has provided more than $25 million in funding to local governments and RECs in North Dakota for work related to the Good Friday winter storm.