Two area utilities are adding solar power to their power generation portfolios to meet the needs of southwestern Missouri and southeastern Kansas.
The first of two solar operations will go live over the next two weeks when Liberty completes its first 2.2 megawatt solar farm near Prosperity, east of Webb City and south of Carterville in Jasper County.
In Kansas, Heartland Rural Electric Cooperative is building two 1 megawatt solar panels at two locations in Crawford and Neosho counties, including one next to the Greenbush Education Service Center on Highway 47 between Girard and St. Paul.
Heartland CEO Mark Scheibe said the solar installation can serve as an educational resource for students who travel to Greenbush for programs.
“We are jointly developing educational resources with Greenbush to ensure that local students from kindergarten to high school have the ability to understand renewable resources, solar energy and construction trades,” said Scheibe. “They are all very important not only to the vitality of Southeastern Kansas, but also to our local region.”
The $ 3.5 million solar project at Prosperity is part of Liberty’s renewable energy investment in southwest Missouri and southeast Kansas.
Liberty is also completing three massive wind farms in Neosho County, Kansas, western Barton County and around Golden City in northeast Jasper County, northwest Lawrence and the southwest. from Dade counties in Missouri.
Liberty officials say the solar project is on a smaller scale and is the pilot of what could be a number of flexible power plants that can be placed where demand increases without having to extend power lines or build new ones. new expensive natural gas generators.
“As we put them on our distribution system, we can alleviate some pockets of overload in our system that could potentially offset higher construction costs,” said Drew Landoll, director of strategic projects at Liberty. “The area it entered, the Webb City area, is one of those substations that sometimes come close to peak capacity. What it can do is provide 2 or 2 1/2 megawatts of compensation capacity. If we place them in the desired locations on our system, we can remove some constraints and improve the performance of our system without building a new transmission line in the middle of Joplin.
“When you do these smaller 2- to 10-megawatt solar and battery builds, you are able to defer further investments or fix issues with these types of builds that you traditionally couldn’t solve without putting in new ones. transmission lines or installing a new gas turbine at the other end of your system.
Landoll said the first solar panel covers around 13 acres of a 60-acre land the company leased in the Superfund clean-up area near Prosperity.
Liberty spokesperson Jillian Curtis said the energy generated by the solar farm will be used for customers interested in signing up for the company’s new solar subscription program.
As part of the program, customers can subscribe to solar station energy blocks so that up to half of the electricity they use in the home comes from this energy source instead of standard sources. , including natural gas power plants.
Liberty officials said the overall cost for customers who sign up for the program could be around 14 cents per kilowatt hour, compared to around 13 cents per kilowatt hour currently.
A typical Liberty customer, defined as someone using 1,000 kilowatt hours per month, would be eligible to sign up for five blocks. The cost of use would be $ 132.29, compared to a monthly electric bill of $ 131.84 without solar power, according to Liberty, although none of those totals include taxes or other charges that make also part of regular monthly bills.
Greg Tillman, senior director of tariffs and regulatory affairs for Liberty, said the cost of this power is slightly higher than standard grid power now, but the customer will benefit in the future.
“We expect two things to happen,” he said. “First, the price of solar power may go down, and second, the standard price, especially if gas prices start to rise, other parts of our business start to cost more and just general inflation, l ‘The other side of the bill is going to creep in, “Tillman said.” Over time it becomes a savings for them if customers block this solar tariff now. “
Tillman said he expects the cost of solar generation to fall as technology improves and the utility begins to add battery storage options to its solar projects.
In Kansas, Heartland Rural Electric Cooperative is building its first two solar panels, which will each produce 1 megawatt of electricity. One will be near Greenbush in Crawford County while the other will be in Neosho County between Erie and Chanute.
Scheibe of Heartland said his co-op is joining 11 other Kansas rural power co-ops to add 20 megawatts of power in 20 grids across the state.
Scheibe said workers have started installing the pilings on which the solar panels will be installed. Completion is scheduled for June.
“This helps us reduce the peak demands we have, which helps us provide more stable electricity rates throughout the year for our consumer members,” Scheibe said. “Really, it’s just a way to provide more stable electricity rates.”
The panels will be owned by Today’s Power Inc., a North Little Rock-based company established by rural power co-ops in Arkansas.
Today’s Power Inc. has installed more than 25 solar projects totaling over 40 megawatts over the past five years in Arkansas, Oklahoma and Tennessee. Heartland has signed a power purchase agreement with Today’s Power Inc. to purchase solar power produced by the two panels for the next 25 years.