“The community ought to be proud of this,” were the words of Farmington Mayor Larry Forsythe on Oct. 10 following the groundbreaking ceremony for the new solar farm located near Korber Road.
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 Highway 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.
Forsythe said the offering of renewable energy is a plus when it comes to attracting new industry to the community.
“Those companies that like renewable energy…we’re on top of it,” he said.
Forsythe is no stranger to public works. For years, he served as the head of the committee during his time on the city council.
“It will be very nice for the city to be a green city….this is one step towards being a green city,” he said. “I’m sure MoPEP appreciates us putting this solar panel on the grid. It just makes me proud that we’re doing something like this."
Forsythe expressed his appreciation to the members of the Farmington IDA board and city council for taking the steps necessary to bring the solar farm to the community.
Farmington IDA President Chip Peterson said the project is an example of the city working together with the IDA for the growth of community.
“You have to have new jobs in the area…those are the real dollars that turn two, three, four times in the community that pay for the dentist, the restaurant and all those pieces of the community in terms of the economic development,” he said.
Peterson said the solar farm is a nice piece to fit into the puzzle of building a strong community – using a piece of property to help build jobs while being a steward of the environment.
“It’s commercial, but the same times it falls in closely to where we’re trying to be better stewards of our environment,” he said. “It helps diversify our power needs in the future and help stabilize our pricing a little bit and sends out a message to industries in the country that ‘wow, Farmington is a sustainable community. They’re green. They take care of their rivers. They take care of their air and I think it will help us generate more jobs in the future…it’s a great use for this property.”
Ewell Lawson is the vice-president of government affairs, communications and member relations. He explained the Missouri Public Energy Pool is operated by the Missouri Joint Municipal Utility Commission – a commission of 70 cities joined together to make decisions on their electrical utilities.
“With MoPEP, there are 35 cities that work together to provide power supply for all 35 cities,” he said. “They act jointly in concert with each other and they each have a vote on the commission as well as a vote in how their power operates. This particular power pool has made a decision to take a long term view on the power supply.
“By doing that brings stability…not only reliability to the power that they are providing and diversity in their power they are supplying, but stability in the rates of what they provide” looking beyond 2017.
Lawson said the “beauty” of a municipal utility is the ability to make decisions that are local and impactful to their communities.
“Whether that’s economic development or the importance of the reliability of the system and their ability to respond quickly if there’s an ice storm or a tornado or anything like that…you’re not depending on someone else to come in and fix that when you have your own people in place, in town that can go out and fix those concerns.”
Lawson said the solar farm is just one part in the equation of sustainable energy available in the pool.
“We have landfill gas…a number of solar farms across the 35 city footprint,” he said. “We have some co-generation and some hydro-power that comes from the federal government into the power pool as well. All of that said, we also have a number of base-load coal plants and natural gas plants” which includes the one in Fredericktown.
“Bringing in these solar farms….all bring a diversified portfolio to the table and that provides strength to the pool, stability to their rates, bolsters that long-term price stability. 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.”
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.
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. During the ceremony, 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 around 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 hanger 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 initial contract price for the energy is $55 per megawatt hour (5.5 cents per kilowatt), but the energy cost increases each year through the initial contract.
"Our current all-in wholesale cost for energy, transmission, and ancillary charges is approximately $75," he said. "The system will be owned and operated by MC Power for the initial seven years after which Missouri Public Energy Pool has a purchase right for the solar farm. Solar energy is not typically less expensive than some other generation resources. However, the long term energy cost is very stable."
The city administrator 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,” Beavers 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.”