September 23, 2013 - City Utilities of Springfield said Monday that it is close to signing a contract to buy electricity from the state's largest solar energy farm after it's built in eastern Greene County. The five-megawatt project could open late next spring on 40 acres that CU owns near its McCartney natural gas turbine between Springfield and Strafford.
Strata Solar will own, operate and maintain the Solar Photovoltaic Energy System. CU will buy all the available energy from it.
"I think this is exciting for us. This is exciting for all of our customers too, to be part of this ground-breaking initiative where we're going to have the largest solar power system in the state of Missouri," says Cara Shaefer, Director of Energey Management and Conservation at City Utilities.
The nearly five megawatt system will produce enough electricity to power about 875 homes.
The solar farm will be behind the McCartney natural gas generating station, and one of the reasons CU is putting it there is because the distribution system is large enough to handle the extra power.
A company called Strata Solar, which has done similar projects in other states, will actually own the 40 acres of solar panels, and lease the land from CU. The utility will have a 25 year contract to buy the solar power.
"The capital part is the biggest part of it, so allowing another company to own and maintain this system and just for us to buy the power from it makes it more attractive," says Shaefer.
Former Springfield City Councilman and Sierra Club activist Dan Chiles says, "I'm so proud of them to take this step. I think the financial arrangements that I've read about look really pleasing, because it's not a capital cost to the rate payers. That capital cost is born by investors, and the reason you're seeing that is because investors have come to their senses now."
Having a solar array himself, Chiles strongly believes that investing in solar power is a smart investment in the future. "They're looking at the declining cost of solar, and they realize, oh my gosh. This makes financial sense. It's just as good as an investment on Wall Street," says Chiles.
"We know that that's going to be a bigger player of our entire energy mix in the future, and for us to get this attractive pricing and to get this project started now certainly will make a difference down the road," Shaefer says.
Similar in operation to the existing natural gas peaking turbines, the power produced at the solar facility would be added to CU's distribution system and could provide on-peak power when electricity is demanded most, which is during hot summer afternoons. It can also help to reduce the demand on other generation units.
When completed, the 4.95MW system could produce 9,606,000kWh per year. That is equivalent to the electric power used by approximately 875 homes in the Springfield area in one year. CU has about 96,000 residential, commercial and industrial customers who buy electricity.
During the life of the 25-year contract, CU would retain all Renewable Energy Credits and would provide connection equipment to the system.
CU said it won't reveal how much it will pay for the solar energy until it signs the contract with Strata Solar. It said Monday morning that the contract might not be signed on Monday as it once thought might happen.
CU says because the solar power will be such a small part of their entire electricity mix and they don't have the capital costs, customers will likely see no rate increase.
Construction on the solar farm is scheduled to begin in March and be finished in three to five months.