Solar project underway

Chad Frey
The Kansan
An eight-acre solar farm is under construction at East Lake Road and First Street in eastern Harvey County. The project is part of a initiative that includes several rural cooperatives statewide, this one by Butler Electric Cooperative.

Construction has started on a new solar farm in eastern Harvey County, a project of the Butler Electric, is underway — and a conditional use permit for eight acres of ground for the project was approved buy the Harvey County Commission April 27. 

The project will have the capability of powering about 270 homes currently served by the cooperative in Harvey and Butler Counties. It is one of two such projects by the cooperative currently under development. 

The creation of the solar farm, along with about 20 other across the state, was first reported by The Newton Kansan and The Butler County Times Gazette Nov. 20,2020. 

The Butler County Electric Cooperative applied for permits and zoning in December of 2020 for the construction of a solar facility at the southwest corner of East Lake Road and First Street in rural Harvey County. 

Construction has already started, prior to the approval of conditonal use permits, with the approval of Gina Bell, director of the Harvey County Planning, Zoning and Environmental Department. 

"They have already started," Bell said.  "I did that. I had put them off for so long."

Bell told the commission she had postponed hearings for a "long time" because of COVID-19, and not knowing when groups of people could gather for hearings. 

The county planning and zoning board did meet, and approved the conditional use permit unanimously. There was little opposition registered — only one person sent a letter protesting the construction of the solar farm. 

"That person said they thought it would be an eyesore. That letter came from someone in ... Colorado," Bell said. 

The solar project sits adjacent to a pair of natural gas pipeline facilities on East Lake Road. 

The county commission was taken aback that construction was approved prior to their approval of the conditional use permit. 

"The issue is if someone wanted to appear here and present, they would eb a day late and a dollar short," Westfall said.  "... . Surprisingly,  have no one contact me about this, pro or con, and it is in my district."

The farm is one of about two dozen that are scheduled to be constructed by a group of electric cooperatives across the state. 

The Kansas Cooperative Sun Power Program is a series of solar farms developed by Today's Power Inc. of Arkansas to harvest renewable energy in the state for 12 participating electric cooperatives. The 25-year program will result in the construction of more than 20 megawatts of solar power spread out across more than 800 miles of Kansas.

“Co-ops across the state have come together,” Sarah Madden, public relations director for the Butler Electric Cooperative, said in November. “ ... These 12 have banded together to provide solar for our customers at a low cost for decades to come. ... This is great for our entire state.”

Locations in the region include Butler, Harvey, McPherson and Sedgwick counties.

The new solar farms will represent the second and third operated by the Butler Electric Cooperative. The company constructed one of its own a couple of years ago near Rose Hill.

All systems installed will be sized in the 1-megawatt range. Each system is contracted through a 25-year power purchase agreement with additional five-year options. Local cooperatives will be responsible for the purchase of electricity generated from the solar farms and will have up-front costs associated with the development of renewable solar energy.

The cooperation of the 12 entities will lead to a reduced cost of construction.

“We got involved because teaming together,” Madden said. “... We were able to build solar power farms at an economies of scale. We can build them cheaper than if we did this all by ourselves. ... That is savings that we can pass on to our customers.”

Owned by Electric Cooperatives, TPI was created to provide solar facilities to Arkansas’ electric cooperatives that could otherwise not utilize federal tax incentives.

TPI has constructed solar arrays for 15 of the 17 electric cooperatives of Arkansas, as well as cooperatives and cooperative organizations in Oklahoma and Tennessee.

Butler Electric Cooperative is owned by its members and governed by a board of directors elected from the membership by the members. The cooperative supplies electric power to 7,000 meters in Butler, Chase, Cowley, Greenwood, Harvey, Marion and Sedgwick counties. Construction schedules have not yet been announced for the projects.

Solar farms like this1-megawatt sun farm in Arkansas operated by Woodruff Electric Cooperative will be coming to Kansas after the formation of the Kansas Cooperative Sun Power Program in November. One of those is under construction in Harvey County at East Lake Road and First Street.