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November 24th, 2020

solar panelsThe one-megawatt Sun Farm in Arkansas. Similar farms are being planned for Kansas. Courtesy photoROBERT PIERCE • Leader & Times

 

In an effort to procure low upfront cost solar energy to serve their membership through the Kansas Cooperative Sun Power Program (KCSPP) and reduce peak demand, 12 cooperatives in Kansas are joining together to make a small investment for the next 25 years or more in the harvesting of sunshine.

Under its unique cooperative programming, the KCSPP is a series of solar farms developed by Today’s Power Inc. (TPI) to harvest renewable energy in the state for participating electric cooperatives.

TPI is a cooperative-owned renewable energy group owned by the Arkansas Electric group, and TPI Marketing and Public Relations Coordinator Jennah Denney said the KCSPP started when a few Kansas electric cooperatives looked at solar energy as a resource to generate renewable energy.

“As they started going through the process with coops, they realized there was power in numbers, and they were administering an RFP, or request for proposal, through a group called GDS & Associates, trying to get the most qualified, the best pricing developers for the project in the scope of their services,” she said.

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The program has attracted the best possible long-term pricing and will result in the construction of more than 20 megawatts of solar power spread out across more than 800 miles of the Sunflower State.

Denney said a one-megawatt solar energy system, which all systems will be installed as, spans about five to nine acres using between 3,800 and 4,100 panels. She added that amount depends on the configuration of each individual site.

Denney said this method of generation makes it possible for cooperatives to increase the production of renewable energy year round and reduce peak demand.

“They could procure larger amounts of solar for a smaller price even staying within a one-megawatt range,” she said. “We developed the Kansas Electric Cooperative Sun Power Program as a way for these coops to join forces  and receive the best pricing for their project.”

Denney said the 25-year program each of the 12 cooperatives are participating in includes area cooperative CMS Electric, which serves parts of Seward County and neighboring Meade County.

Denney said the reduction of peak demand will enable each cooperative to provide financial stability to its members while also reducing their carbon footprint.

“It helps keep the rate for the rate payers stable while producing energy through those peak demand times,” she said. “The peak demand a lot of the times for these coops is the biggest driver in what their rates are when purchasing that wholesale electricity to distribute to their membership.”

Denney said cooperatives were interested in shaving peak demand and producing renewable energy.

“They realized that coming together rather than separately, they could procure this at a better price and have a better product overall for their members,” she said.

Denney said because the 12 coops are located in rural Kansas, and they purchase power from the Kansas Electric Power Cooperative.

“They wanted to produce the power in their home state,” she said. “They didn’t want to buy it from Texas or Oklahoma.”

Denney said this is just another way Kansas cooperatives are helping support local businesses, industries and individuals with the resources they need to grow as efficient, responsible and successful contributors to communities.

“There’s going to be generation locally that creates jobs and labor coming into these rural communities,” she said. “We’re staying in the hotels. We’re dining in the restaurants. We’re bringing that business straight to Kansas rather than going elsewhere to do it.”

Currently, the projects are in the engineering process, and construction will take place beginning in 2021 and running to 2022. Denney said research for the project was looked at from a turnkey point of view.

“That’s everything from conducting environmental reviews, technical engineering and any kind of civil construction,” she said. “Many of these sites are prime solar sites, but for some of them, it will require some civil engineering to get our guys ready for construction.”

Denney said sites will be started and finished at different dates throughout the construction process.

“We’re going to be kicking off some groundbreaking announcements individually for each of these 12 projects as their construction,” she said. “We have a set of five of them that’ll be announcing their groundbreaking and start of construction by February. All projects will start construction in 2021.”

Denney said TPI has developed more than 30 projects on the same scale as this project with 17 electric cooperatives across Oklahoma, Arkansas and Tennessee.

“Our experience there lends credibility and ability to perform a turnkey project from construction to finish in a timely manner meeting the goals of each of these coops,” she said.

Denney said peak demand typically occurs during summer months, and this is also when solar power produces the most electricity because of the higher availability of sun. She said by mitigating the amount of energy needed during peak demand time, each cooperative is able to provide financial stability to its members while also reducing their carbon footprint. 

“By providing that financial stability, they able to do that through mitigating the times people need electricity the most,” she said. “They have to buy less power, meaning the rates can remain low for electric cooperative members.”

Denney said how much impact the project has will vary from cooperative to cooperative.

“It’s not so much a kilowatt to kilowatt hour savings you see, but on the whole, that peak demand affects the cooperative year round throughout that one time of year,” she said. “On an annual basis, we’ll see rate stability by utilizing solar energy during these peak demand times as well as year round.”

TPI was created to provide solar facilities in Arkansas’ electric cooperatives that could not otherwise utilize federal tax incentives. Denney said fellow cooperatives in neighboring states quickly learned of TPI’s program and wanted a “known business partner” to provide their solar system.

“We have a rich history in working with electric cooperatives, and we’re very excited to bring this program to help impact the Kansas cooperatives,” she said.

Denney said the solar power TPI provides is cheaper and more affordable than much of the traditional means of generation on the market.

“It has over a 25-year lifespan,” she said. “It gives cooperatives the ability to plan for the future and plan for stability. It’s hard to predict what the cost of power will be in the next week. That’s something that changes every 15 minutes on the market, and by installing this technology, you can actually predict what you’re going to producing. At the end of the 25-year power purchase agreement with the coop, they’ll have two additional five-year options to expand their renewable energy use or even carry it with better energy storage.”

Denney said solar power for the project will be installed on local distribution lines.

“The transmission line brings the big wholesale power to the local utility to distribute power,” she said. “Instead of going through the transmission and purchasing that power from the market, these cooperatives will be producing this power to go directly on their distribution grid.”

With traditional electricity, stormy weather is known to cause outages, leaving many stranded without power for long periods of time in some cases. Denney said the upcoming solar project should allow customers to get their power back up and running in less time.

“I wish I could predict the weather, but that is the biggest variable when it comes to solar power and wind power,” she said. “When we do our analysis through the whole 25 years of a lifetime, we look at historical weather data for the past 20 years. We build the system appropriately to produce what we expect on an annual basis.”

Denney said with all this in mind, the solar energy system is not totally dependent on what the weather’s doing. Also helping with the quick turnaround time from outages is TPI’s around-the-clock monitoring centers for projects.

“There’s real-time monitoring,” she said. “We have stats from a production standpoint as well as visual. Some of these projects, including the ones in Kansas, having moving parts. We have real-time monitoring with 24/7 staff monitoring that.”

Denney said that monitoring includes alerts when something is wrong with the system.

“Under the solar power service agreement with the coops, we the developer make power,” she said. “We’re solely responsible to make sure these systems are producing.”

Cooperatives, Denney said, are only responsible for purchasing power.

“They’re not responsible for maintaining the system or any other out-of-pocket expenses,” she said. “It’s our biggest duty to make sure that capacity is there and that system is functioning probably. At the end of the day, if it’s not, we don’t get paid as a developer.”

Denney added this means cooperatives are not at risk if something goes wrong.

“They’re not putting that risk on their members to help pay for those types of things if that happens,” she said. “They’re not at risk for it all at the end of the day.””

All of this, Denney said, allows TPI to troubleshoot, diagnose and cure many issues without going onsite.

“Because of where we’re centrally located between the states we work with, we’re able to dispatch staff between two individual states if needed,” she said.

Denney said in the event of an outage either planned or unplanned, systems have an automatic shutoff in place for safety measures.

Denney said cooperatives are simply responsible for making sure distribution lines are working.

“As a developer for the project, we’re in charge of taking them from start to finish and owning and operating it for the next 25 years,” she said.

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