Naturally, for the groundbreaking ceremony of a solar farm, the sun shone bright Wednesday morning.
But as MC Power Vice President Loren Williamson gave his opening remarks at the site of what will be the Independence Solar Energy Community Farm, a little gust of wind blew his papers away.
After he recovered them, Independence Power & Light Director Leon Daggett quipped about trying to control wind power, drawing a good laugh from the audience of IPL and MC Power employees, city officials and plenty of interested citizens gathered at the Bundschu Road site across from Indian Trails Elementary School in rural Independence.
Some of those city officials have been looking forward to day like Wednesday for several years, and the project picked up steam in 2014 when the City Council made renewable energy a commitment. MC Power presented the most favorable option for a project, and by the end of the year Independence should have a 3-megawatt solar farm that would be the largest in the region.
“If anybody beats it,” Daggett said of the solar farm's size, “I hope it's us.”
“The sun is like a gift from God, and we'll take that gift and make energy for the people,” City Council Member Curt Dougherty said. “You can't get any better from that. You've got this property out here for it, it's far enough back and it won't make any noise."
Here are five things to know about the solar farm:
• The site for the solar farm is land owned by Community of Christ. MC Power, which is based in Lee's Summit, is leasing the land and will produce the power, which IPL then buys. IPL customers have had the opportunity to purchase blocks of solar energy – up to 40 percent of the average residential consumption – at an average of an additional $2.40 a month per kilowatt, and they can lock in that price up to 15 years as a partial guard against potential rate increases.
• The solar farm had been slated for land above the Space Center caves east of M-291. But MC Power from Lee's Summit, which will construct the farm and sell the solar power to IPL, couldn't reach a desirable lease agreement with the Space Center owners. The new 40-acre site is more than twice as large as the previous site.
• The solar farm will have more than 11,000 panels covering about 18 acres, set to the back of the site to best allow for possible expansion in the future. Those panels are designed to withstand 1-inch hailstones and will be surrounded by chain-link fences, Williamson said, and together they will produce enough energy to power 425 to 450 homes annually.
• According to their contract, the city and MC Power had to pre-sell at least 25 percent of available power for the project to start. Daggett said residential and commercial customers have committed to buy 39 percent thus far.
“It wouldn't be possible without the commitment of consumers,” Williamson said. “The benefits will travel with you if you choose to move within the area.”
• MC Power has produced several solar farms in Missouri, including in Butler, Trenton, Rolla and Waynesville, but the Independence project will be its closest one yet.
“It's wonderful to have a project in our own backyard,” Williamson said.