A guide to KCP&L’s solar program, including why it won’t necessarily power your house

Wichita area gets first solar power plant

KEPCo, which provides power to rural electrical coops in Kansas, has built a 1 megawatt solar power plant northeast of Andover.
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KEPCo, which provides power to rural electrical coops in Kansas, has built a 1 megawatt solar power plant northeast of Andover.

Customers who buy into Kansas City Power & Light’s newly approved solar power test program will be paying extra to generate electricity from the sun.

It doesn’t mean they’ll be the ones to consume that solar-generated power.

That’s because the solar power will flow into the stream of electricity used by all customers in KCP&L’s territory. No one will know who exactly will consume the solar-generated stuff.

James Owen, executive director of Renew Missouri, said the disconnect “could be an issue” in selling the solar subscriptions. Consumers who subscribe will have to be content knowing they’re offsetting power generated by fossil fuels regardless of who ultimately consumes the solar power.

“While it might not be directly going to your house or your business, it will be going directly to someone,” Owen said.

KCP&L is counting on finding enough interest in solar energy to justify building its own commercial-sized solar array in the Kansas City area.

“I would really like to have interest on the front end to justify that 5 megawatt installation,” said Drew Robinson, manager of renewables at KCP&L.

Missouri regulators approved the company’s Solar Subscription program this week. Consumers have been able to show their interest online for a few weeks but will have to wait until next year to officially sign up.

Construction of a 5 megawatt array will depend on whether customers subscribe for at least 90 percent of the power it would generate. Lower subscriptions would lead KCP&L to build a smaller array, perhaps half that size at 2.5 megawatts.

Other regional power companies have tested similar programs. Westar Energy, which merged with KCP&L’s parent company, built a 1.2 megawatt solar installation in Hutchinson for its solar subscription program.

The array Robinson hopes to build would need about 25 acres of flat ground or rolling hills, though KCP&L could split the array into two smaller locations. Site selection is underway.

KCP&L plans to sell 10,000 shares or blocks of the power the site would generate. Each block would represent 500 watts of electricity.

There is no upfront fee, but each block a consumer subscribes to would add between $1 and $2 to each month’s bill.

Consumers will be able to buy just one block or enough blocks to cover as much as half the power they use on average. KCP&L estimates the average household would pay an additional $5 to $15 a month depending on their power use.

The limited capacity of the solar array will limit how many consumers will be able to subscribe. KCP&L said these solar blocks will be available on a first-come, first-served basis.

Final prices will depend on how much it costs to build and manage the solar installation. KCP&L has estimated the solar-generated electricity will cost 15.9 cents per kilowatt hour, which is higher than power costs now.

Subscribers would be billed at the higher solar rate for the blocks of power they purchase and at KCP&L’s standard rates for the rest of their usage.

The Solar Subscription rate, once set, won’t change for the program’s scheduled 20- year run.

Regular power rates may change. For example, Missouri regulators approved reductions in KCP&L’s standard rates starting in December as part of the order that approved the Solar Subscription program.

KCP&L customers who sign up for a Solar Subscription will be locked in for the first year. After that, they can drop blocks at any time but may make changes only once a year.

“The way we like to look at it, if you have a house that can’t have solar panels put on the roof this is a good way to get it,” Owen said.

Installing solar panels generally is not an option for renters, residents of condominiums and owners of historical buildings. KCP&L also is pitching its Solar Subscription as an alternative to the cost and effort of installing panels.

One alternative to solar subscriptions at power companies would be for a group of consumers to erect its own solar array, often called a community solar project. Owen said that with a true community solar array, the power does go directly to the users who backed the project.

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