Solar farm

The West Plains city council held a a special meeting Monday to discuss the possibility of a new solar farm in West Plains.

“What would you say if I told you we will spend $25 million and will drop the average customer’s bill by approximately $10 per month by 2024?” Public Works Director and Electric Superintendent Jeff Hanshaw asked the audience of about a dozen council members, business owners and community members who attended the public meeting.

Hanshaw presented information at the meeting to address questions about the positive and negatives of the city starting a solar farm. The purpose of the special session was to inform and answer any questions about the solar farm.  

At the July 22 city council meeting council memmbers will be asked to vote on a memorandum of understanding between the city and EVERGY from Topeka, Kan., for the construction of the solar farm.

Hanshaw told the council members that the strategic plan vision is for “the city of West Plains Electric Department to apply the public power benefits of safety, lower rates, high reliability, local control and provide exceptional customer service to the city, its residents and all city of West Plains utility customers.”

He said that one of the positives of this would be that costs would be reduced from $74.34 per megawatt hour in 2019 to $69.77 in 2024.

Another positive he identified is that no land would need to be purchased as the city would use land it already owns, so there would be no land purchase cost.

The proposed solar farm would be placed on land the city owns that was once used as the city landfill, on County Road 1770 on the north side of West Plains.

Shared costs between the city of West Plains and EVERGY include a contracted cost of $150,000 for drain pipe, 1,000 feet long and 20 feet wide, and construction of a gravel laydown area of 100 feet by 230 feet, and $16,000 for the initial site survey which has already been completed.

In addition, $94,000 in connection costs from the transformers to the city of West Plains distribution grid and $300,000 for construction and maintenance of a 7,800 linear foot security fence around the perimeter would be shared. That fence would be six feet with three-strand barb wiring.

Total costs of $560,000 would be incurred over the next two budget cycles in the capital account.

Hanshaw pointed out those numbers mean the proposed solar farm would be the cheapest solar farm in the state of Missouri. It would sit on 29 acres of land with an environmentally sustainable footprint, and, he added, would be pollinator friendly.

In 2017 council gave guidance to explore solar as an option for power purchase portfolio. Hanshaw and the city have been looking into and researching the option since then.

To take advantage of tax credits, the solar project must have 5% of the construction completed by December. Tax credits are 30% for the calendar year 2019, 26% for 2020 and 21% for 2021.

“What this means is by kicking this project off and getting it started by the end of 2019 it will give a total savings cost of the project,” said City Finance Director Todd Harmon. “The lesser the costs of the project the more cost savings we can pass along to the residents of West Plains by lowering their utility bills.”

The council will vote on the proposal at the city council meeting at 5:30 p.m. July 22 in city council chambers at city hall. The city council meeting is open to the public.

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