New Solar Farm in West Plains Discussed July 9

A proposal by the City of West Plains to significantly expand its energy resources through the use of solar power was presented to the West Plains City Council during a special work session Monday afternoon.

The plan, presented by Public Works Director Jeff Hanshaw, includes the construction of a Solar Farm on 29 acres on property owned by the City of West Plains near its landfill. The Farm would produce approximately 13,742 megawatts of electricity, which is approximately 7 percent of the City of West Plains’ current annual usage.

Developing the Farm would be Evergy, Inc., out of Kansas City, Missouri, which would enter into a 30-year fixed Power Purchase Agreement with the City of West Plains that includes a buyout option in the 8th year of the agreement. According to its website, Evergy – through its operating subsidiaries Kansas City Power & Light Company and Westar Energy – provides clean, safe and reliable energy to 1.6 million customers in Kansas and Missouri.

Hanshaw said early estimates based on last year’s expenditures would mean an annual savings of $625,000 on electricity purchases. Those savings would then be passed down to the City’s utility customers by 2024, with the potential savings of approximately $10 on the average monthly utility bill.

The West Plains City Council will vote on a Memorandum of Understanding between Evergy and the City of West Plains during its regular council meeting Monday, July 22.

What is a Solar Farm, and How Can West Plains Benefit?

Solar Farms, which are now common throughout the United States, are massive decentralized solar arrays supplying electricity to the power grid, said Hanshaw. They are typically owned by utilities and serve as another asset to supply power to properties in their coverage area. Multiple panels, which are made of silicon, are required to generate an appreciable amount of electricity, which is why Farms are so large.

An issue for the City of West Plains is ensuring sufficient power for the future needs of utility customers, and at the same time lowering costs for both the City and its utility customers. Solar provides a renewable source of energy, as opposed to coal, and allows the City to purchase power at lower rates on the open market. There are also questions about the future availability of coal-generated power from the Sikeston Power Station, which provides a significant amount of power to West Plains.

Should the City proceed with the Solar Farm, businesses/industries in the city would be eligible for Renewable Energy Tax credits, the City would eliminate costly transmission fees, and West Plains would be one of the first predominantly “carbon free” cities in Missouri. Because of its geographic location in the Ozarks, West Plains is not suitable for other forms of renewable energy, such as ethanol and wind.

The West Plains Solar Farm

In anticipation for the project, City crews have been clearing out timber on the landfill site located north of the city off County Road 1770. Although the Solar Farm, for the most part, will be “maintenance free” according to Evergy officials, the Farm will be monitored on a regular basis by Evergy officials and City crews. The site will include a driveway access and a six-foot chain-link fence around the perimeter, said Hanshaw.

Once the Farm is constructed, Evergy will plant pollinator-friendly grasses and plants at the site to create an environmentally-sustainable footprint. Representatives also want to work with local schools and Missouri State University-West Plains to provide opportunities for students interested in renewable-energy technology, business application classes, environmental impact studies, and pre-and-post construction of the site.

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