Independence community solar farm proposed

MC Power of Lee’s Summit, which built this solar farm in Butler, Mo., would build a similar facility in Independence if a proposal is approved by city officials.
MC Power of Lee’s Summit, which built this solar farm in Butler, Mo., would build a similar facility in Independence if a proposal is approved by city officials. Independence Power & Light

A proposed community solar farm in Independence, if approved by city officials, would be the largest in the Kansas City area.

The Independence City Council will hear details during a Monday night study session.

The three megawatt facility would generate renewable energy for Independence Power & Light, the city-owned utility.

Proposed for a site on East Salisbury Road, east of Missouri 291 and just south of the Independence Athletic Complex, the project is contingent upon the utility agreeing to purchase electricity from MC Power, the Lee’s Summit firm that would build the facility. MC Power also would need to sell 25 percent of the project’s electricity in five-year blocks before construction would begin.

Independence has operated its own electric utility since 1901 and long has burned coal at two of the state’s older coal-burning plants.

Last year the city council approved a resolution encouraging the utility to generate 10 percent of its energy with non-carbon-based sources, unlike coal or natural gas, by 2018.

The new solar farm could bring the utility’s renewable energy production to about 13 percent.

The renewable energy price would be slightly more expensive than what residential customers are now paying, said Leon Daggett, a utility director.

Residential customers now pay 12 cents for one kilowatt, Daggett said. A kilowatt generated by the new solar farm would cost that customer 1.62 cents more. That would add $2.37 to an average monthly bill, he said.

Despite the extra cost, customers already are calling to ask about renewable energy options. “Some of our customers tell me they want it now,” Daggett said.

Several years ago, Scott Roberson, a dentist and Independence City Council member, installed solar panels on his dentist office to reduce summer cooling costs.

Although he had yet to read through the solar farm proposal, he said he wishes the utility would give more consideration to grants or credits letting residents or business owners more easily install their own solar panels.

“It’s always more efficient when solar is used at the place that it is generated,” he said.

Roberson also is concerned with the slightly higher price for the renewable power. Some Missouri community solar initiatives, he said, have not sold as many subscriptions as hoped.

“It would be a shame if we put this in and only have half the power sold,” he said.

Kansas City Power & Light has announced plans to build its first commercial-scale solar generating plant near Greenwood, south of Kansas City. But the Missouri Public Service Commission continues to review that project, said Katie McDonald, KCP&L spokeswoman.

MC Power has built several such facilities in Missouri, including one in Butler, about an hour south of Kansas City.

The Independence facility would be the largest community solar farm in the area, said Laura Machala, Mid-American Regional Council solar energy coordinator.

The project could allow the city to position itself as a green energy source at a time when many businesses are adopting renewable energy goals. Unilever, the multinational consumer goods company, announced last month that it intended to be “carbon positive” by 2030.

A Unilever plant in Independence has been undergoing a $99 million makeover and is one of the utility’s largest commercial customers.

Much of the utility’s electricity continues to be generated from coal and natural gas.

About 60 percent of the utility’s current comes from contracts with Kansas City Power & Light’s Iatan 2 plant, as well as a facility in Nebraska, both of which are powered by coal. Still other energy comes from a natural gas facility in Pleasant Hill.

But in 2008, the utility also began buying wind power from a facility near Salina, Kan. That facility now generates about 5 percent of the electricity offered to its customers. This year the city also committed to buy wind power from a Kansas facility now under construction near Beattie, in Marshall County.

The Independence solar farm would not be the first in the Kansas City area.

This summer, a 100-kilowatt community solar farm, the Platte-Clay Electric Cooperative, went online. The co-op offered its 22,000 members the chance to buy renewable energy in 25-year agreements. About 25 percent of the facility’s power has been subscribed to, said Dave Diehl, the co-op’s marketing manager.

The 25-year agreement term is not a hindrance, Diehl said. If customers move to another home within the cooperative’s service area, the subscription is changed accordingly. Homeowners who move out of the service area can receive a settlement for those years not used, Diehl said.

Brian Burnes: 816-234-4120, @BPBthree

Solar discussion

A proposed community solar farm in Independence is scheduled to be discussed during a study session beginning at 6 p.m. Monday at Independence City Hall, 111 E. Maple Ave.