As the Grid Decentralizes, Rural Electric Co-ops Seek More Local Control

Rooftop solar and battery energy storage are helping rural electric cooperatives declare independence from centralized power stations

Electric vehicles, rooftop solar panels, and microgrids aren’t only quickening the pulses of urban hipsters. Distributed energy resources are turning heads in rural parts of the United States, too.

Indeed, the rise of distributed generation—the so-called “democratization” of the energy system—is a key driver behind the U.S. electric power grid’s steady trek to decentralize. Technology improvements along with favorable pricing and public policy incentives benefit electric generating options that are both small in scale and close to load centers, at least compared to the large-scale central generating stations that have long defined the North American grid.

That, in turn, is creating a favorable environment for small-scale member-owned utilities, known as rural electric cooperatives, to declare their independence from centralized power and adopt business models that favor locally-grown electricity.