Fall River Electric’s Driggs buildings have a shiny, new look to them.

Solar panels were recently installed on the roofs, as a part of a new project which aims to bring another source of power to the cooperative’s members.

Ted Austin, Fall River Electric’s marketing and public relations manager, explained the benefits of the system.

“This is a much more cost-effective way for members to buy into a solar project without having to incur the greater expense of their own systems,” said Austin.

The final details are being figured out right now, with Fall River waiting to hear back on if a grant for the project has been approved.

“If we get that grant it would obviously reduce the expense that we would be looking to the members to pay to participate in the program,” said Austin.

The panels will provide another source to the power mix that Fall River supplies its customers with.

Fall River’s electric generation is already overwhelmingly renewable, with “95% of our power mix” coming from hydroelectric, said Austin.

This is the first cooperative solar project for Fall River, and the power it produces will be available to all Fall River members, regardless of their location in its service territory.

As solar power has continued to gain prevalence in the United States, electric utility providers have popularized the business model of asking customers (in Fall River’s case, owner-members) to purchase power generated from the panels and receive a credit for the power those panels generate.

This project, therefore, aims to provide another option for members who are interested in receiving solar-generated power.

Solar power has a lot of variables that determine whether or not it will be effective for an individual to put a private system on their roof.

Three major considerations include the roofline of the property and its ability to receive sunlight for generation, the ability to afford the initial investment of the system, and HOA restrictions on property design.

“A community solar project addresses three things: the ability to buy into alternative generation, the ability to spend less money to get some generation vs. paying more for an entire system yourself, and homeowners that just can’t make a solar-power system work on their property,” said Austin.

Driggs was chosen as the location of the first project due to the ideal location it offers for solar generation.

“It made sense because our buildings in Driggs have great access to the sun,” said Austin.

Austin also mentioned Ashton as an ideal location for a future project, but the more forested Island Park and West Yellowstone areas are less attractive for solar.

Regardless of the location of your property, any Fall River member can subscribe to and receive power from the Driggs project.

Perhaps the biggest benefit to subscribing to Fall River’s Community Solar project is that, if you move within Fall River’s service area, you can take that subscription with you.

“If you move to another property within our service area, whether it’s in Teton Valley or some other portion of our service area, then that solar production of the subscription that you buy into will go with you,” said Austin. “It’s unlike putting a solar-power system on your house, because once you sell that house, you don’t have that generation anymore.”

Members that subscribe can sign up for 25 years, a long-term that offers exponential power-saving opportunities.

“You’ll be able to benefit from the generation of that system for a long time,” said Austin.

Members can receive project updates by reading Fall River’s monthly newsletters, talking to customer service representatives, and visiting a webpage that will be up and running once the project is completed.

Scholarships

Sixteen students from Teton High School were awarded scholarships from Fall River Electric’s scholarships fund. In total, Fall river gave just over $77,000 in scholarships to 32 students inside Fall River’s service area.

THS students receiving scholarships are as follows.

Joshua Wright, Kennedi Bagley, Kate Bleffert, Logan Brewer, Hailey Chambers, Megan Dalley, Maggie Graupner, Abigail Hale, Blake Hibbert, Jocelyn Jenkins, Lance Safiran, Jose Valazques, Morgan Warburton, John Woiwode, and Betsamay Vazquez.

Joshua Wright won the lineman scholarship, $2,400 to attend lineman college this fall. The scholarship was presented to him at Fall River’s Annual Business Meeting in June.

The scholarships are funded by unclaimed or donated Patronage Capital, the money Fall River has left in its coffers after paying for power generation and infrastructure improvements. Patronage capital is explained in more detail on Fall River’s website.

“What sometimes happens is people move from our service area and neglect to leave a forwarding address,” said Austin. “We have no ability to inform them of what their patronage capital is or instructions on how they can redeem it.”

Fall River, therefore, has “thousands of dollars,” each year that goes unclaimed said Austin.

“We don’t spend that money any other way,” said Austin.

With all of that money being funneled into the scholarship fund, Fall River usually gives out around $75,000 a year in scholarships exclusively to students within their service area.

These scholarships are just one of the many benefits of Fall River’s Cooperative system,

“Patronage capital is, besides our democratic control, the greatest difference and the greatest asset that fall river electric members have as a cooperative,” said Austin.