The benefits of a solar energy farm and an explanation of what is going to happen with the farm was explained to a large group of El Dorado Springs business and civic leaders at an El Dorado Springs Chamber of Commerce luncheon.
The luncheon was held at the chamber’s office Thursday, May 11, and there were plenty of questions and issues raised during the presentation of Tom Hardwick, vice president of business development with MC Power, a Kansas City-based company. MC Power is the company which will build the farm as part of the Missouri Public Utility Association’s move to expand its pool of energy sources. The utility association provides electrical power to its members, small cities across Missouri, which then sells the power to its local power or utility customers.
The public utility association has made a decision to increase its percentage of electrical power created through solar farms because, according to Hardwick, it is a leveling factor. While other energy sources such as coal or natural gas fluctuate and often can go up in price, solar energy costs remain stable. They will keep the future cost increases tied to fossil fuels from getting out of hand because they will be offset by stable solar energy prices. He said municipal utilities without some solar energy, which are fully dependent upon fossil fuels, will see much greater price hikes in the future.
El Dorado Springs is a member of the association and expects to benefit from the move by the association. Hardwick said future energy prices in El Dorado Springs will not go up as much as prices in areas fully dependent on fossil fuels because solar is not tied to Middle Eastern politics or fossil fuel costs.
Hardwick said the El Dorado farm still is being put together and not all surveys have been completed, but he estimated it would cover 20 acres in the city’s industrial park.
It will have 9,558 solar panels and create about 3.2 megawatts of power. There will be some noise, he called it a low hum, and a security fence. MC Power will maintain the property and cut the grass six times a year.
He was asked about health issues and said it is safe and will not cause cancer or other negative health impacts.
He added, even during rainy days the sun is out and solar panels still will receive energy, just not as much as during sunny days.
He admitted state and federal tax policy has helped his company’s solar development business, but he admitted federal tax benefits also have been helpful to coal, oil and gas producers.
Since MC Power is in the business of large solar farms and complexes, he said his firm does not support or get heavily involved in private solar projects for homes and businesses.
When asked about his company’s experience, Hardwick said MC Power is the largest builder of solar farms in the Midwest and has either built or has under construction 13 solar farms in Missouri. The farm planned for El Dorado has a 2018 construction timetable. He said it should provide enough energy for 425-450 average-sized homes.
The company’s latest project is a solar farm in Lebanon, which had a groundbreaking Tuesday, May 16.
El Dorado Springs city manager Bruce Rogers said the city was proactive and moved ahead of others in getting MC Power to build a solar farm in El Dorado Springs. Rogers said one of the promises made by MC Power was the placement of a video monitor in the El Dorado Springs schools so students can monitor the solar farm.
Hardwick briefly mentioned how solar farms are becoming tourist attractions, how they enable small communities to go after outside businesses looking for some renewable energy and the clean nature of energy production.
However, while he said the next step would be improved and more efficient solar panels, which will enable farms to collect and produce more energy, the biggest issue facing the industry is battery technology.
Hardwick said solar panels only work when there is sun, meaning they do not pull in energy at night and are limited during bad weather. Consequently, developing efficient batteries, which can store energy produced by solar farms for use throughout the night, is a major issue.
Batteries will represent the next major development in the energy industry, Hardwick explained. He also said solar power will never completely replace traditional energy sources powering utility power plants, but will continue to become a larger source of energy.