The groundbreaking for the new solar energy farm in Farmington was noted as a “red letter day” for Farmington.
Representatives from the city, Farmington IDA, MC Power Companies, Missouri Public Utilities Alliance, and financer Gardner Capital, Inc. were on hand for the ceremony at the site, located off Korber Road near Route H.
The 15 to 20 acres of land will contain around 9,000 panels generating about three megawatts against a peak load of about 50 megawatts for the city.
Loren Williamson, senior vice president for MC Power Companies – the firm installing the panels – said the solar farm is a continuation of contract and commitment from the 35 cities in the Missouri Public Utilities Alliance (MPUA) to produce renewable energies for consumers and develop a strategy around the concept of building a solar farm as a catalyst for economic development.
Williamson said such a solar farm shows “progress and forward-thinking as a community.” Work to develop a solar farm has been ongoing for about two years prior to Tuesday’s groundbreaking event.
“It reminds me how much community gets involved in a project like this because it takes so many to get (a project) like this where it is today,” he said.
One of biggest draws for a solar farm is the opportunity to have the ability to produce the energy tying right into the distribution system – allowing for the minimization of line loss and creating efficiencies for when the system is at peak load.
The property for the solar farm was owned by the Farmington IDA. President Chip Peterson gave his example of the three-legged stool - speaking of the residential, commercial and industrial components needed for a community’s growth.
“That’s where the IDA comes in,” he said. “Our basic purpose of an IDA is to increase the quality of life in a community through the creation of new jobs …we try to do that through a filter … to maintain the integrity of our community and be good stewards (of the environment and community money.)"
The solar farm is located on the former Detring Farm and was purchased by the IDA about 10 years ago for potential growth.
“We thought being near the airport was going to lend itself to industries wanting to come in and build a hangar for airplanes,” Peterson said. “It didn’t have the impact we thought.”
At the same time, land around that area starting developing for residential use.
“Mark (Krawczyk with MC Power) got hold of (the IDA) roughly a year ago about bringing a solar farm to town,” Peterson said, adding that was shortly after consultants told the board adding a sustainability component would benefit in drawing industry – stating a solar farm as a most notable positive asset.
Peterson noted the land is perfectly suitable for the solar farm.
“Change doesn’t necessarily bring about progress, but progress inherently requires change,” he said, noting the solar farm brings a more diversified source of energy.
Farmington City Administrator Greg Beavers said the solar farm in Farmington is just one piece in the renewable energy puzzle in the MoPEP member utility communities.
“This system gets blended into our total resource for our 35 member cities,” he said. “In Farmington, we’ll take all the power off of this one as it is generated.”
Beavers noted the farm will generate about one-third of the energy needed in the industrial park. He also spoke of the importance renewable energy plays in drawing industry to a community was emphasized through a critique of the city’s services.
“Sustainable in your community and efforts you are making toward that are really, really important,” he said. “That’s why we were so excited to try and work with MC Power and Garner Capital to bring this to Farmington.”
John Twitty serves as senior vice president of solar development for Central and Midwest region with Gardner Capital, Inc. It was Twitty who noted the date holds special significance for the city.
Municipal utilities do not pay federal income taxes, Twitty explained. Solar energy has a 30 percent federal investment tax credit.
“You need a financial partner that can take that 30 percent tax credit, take it and sell it to an investor,” Twitty said in explaining his company’s role in the solar farm. “That money then becomes available to offset the cost of doing these type of projects.”
He emphasized the importance of renewal energy when it comes to drawing industry to a community.
“That’s the way industrial development is thinking these days,” he said. “Farmington is very insightful for making this project happen.”
Making the project possible, he said, is the partnership between all those agencies in attendance.
“Partnerships came sometimes be the toughest ships to sail,” he said, “…because everyone has their own piece of the action.”
He noted the agencies were able to bring down whatever barriers were in place to make the solar farm a reality.
“You are really to be congratulated,” he said. “This is a red letter day in Farmington’s history … I hope you mark down 10/10/17 as a big day in the history of Farmington.”
Ewell Lawson, vice president of government affairs, communications and member relations for MPUA, explained the role of MPUA.
“(MPUA) is an umbrella name for an organization that represents a number of entities and alliance of entities relating to municipal utilities,” he said. “One part of that leg of that stool is … MJMEUC – the Missouri Joint Municipal Electrical Utility Commission.”
Within MJMEUC are three power pools – with Farmington belonging to the oldest pool of the three.
“Bringing in these solar farms …. all bring a diversive portfolio to the table and that provides strength to the pool, stability to their rates, bolsters that long-term price stability,” he said. “And, having a diversified portfolio with predictable costs and production protection for decades in the future is good for Farmington and every other city in the power pool.”
Farmington Mayor Larry Forsythe echoed the sentiment of the other speakers and noted the role former Mayor Mit Landrum helped play in the development of the solar farm.
Read more about the groundbreaking ceremony in this week’s edition of the Farmington Press.