Innovation by electric cooperatives is getting noticed in a huge way. Fast Company, the media firm that ranks advancements across all sectors worldwide, named BARC Electric Cooperative as the seventh most innovative company in North America in 2021. Serving nearly 13,000 members in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley region, Millboro-based BARC is the first electric co-op bestowed the honor.
BARC was recognized for “making renewable energy accessible and bringing broadband to rural areas.”
“It’s a tremendous honor,” said Mike Keyser, CEO of the co-op and its broadband arm, BARC Connects. “For a co-op in a rural part of Virginia to be recognized nationally at this level is unbelievable really.
“We weren’t even sure Fast Company knew what a co-op is. This recognition not only highlights BARC and what we’re doing, it highlights what co-ops are doing all across the country.”
Tucked along Virginia’s coal country, BARC is the first utility in the state to launch a sustainability plan with a voluntary goal of 100% carbon-neutral energy sales by 2035. It calls for greater investments in solar energy and renewable purchases.
“We are seeing where the industry is heading, what is coming down the pike,” said Keyser. “If it is going to be forced upon us, we’d like to be ahead of that and set our own destiny. This is the right thing to do for our members.”
BARC offers rooftop solar and community solar subscriptions and is building two new utility-scale solar farms this year. The co-op is currently in the development phase of a program that makes the benefits of solar accessible to low- and middle-income members. All of these programs fall under its SolarizeBARC brand, which installed 253 kilowatts of new rooftop solar in 2020, its first year.
An early broadband developer, BARC now has over 2,500 residential and commercial broadband subscribers in previously unserved communities dotting the Shenandoah Valley and Appalachian Mountains. This year, the co-op will add 500 miles of fiber to its communications network for high-speed internet access, making service available to over 12,000 residential and commercial customers by the end of the year.
BARC is also working on developing an EV-charging rate to encourage electric vehicle ownership and has partnered with its G&T, Old Dominion Electric Cooperative, on a 5-megawatt/10 megawatt-hour battery storage project sited near BARC’s largest commercial customer.
“Innovation is truly in our DNA at BARC,” said Keyser. “For Fast Company to see that and consider us worthy of this distinguished list validates the determination of all our staff who are constantly striving to improve the quality of life in our community.”