Nearly ideal conditions were in store as more than 40 people gathered for the dedication of the El Dorado Springs Solar Energy Farm in a ribbon-cutting ceremony Thursday, May 31, near Airport Road.

After an overnight rain, mostly sunny skies with a little bit of a breeze greeted the audience who listened to several speakers under a portable tent.

Loren Williamson, senior vice-president of project development with MC Power Companies, welcomed visitors, thanked various people instrumental with the planning and construction of the facility and rattled off some key numbers about the farm.

“The main plate capacity of this particular project is 3.31 megawatts DC [direct current],” Williamson said, “which means on approximately 19.98 acres, there are 10,188 solar panels capturing the energy from the sun, taking it and converting it over to the voltage you’re using in your distribution system within your community.”

Williamson said the 325-watt solar panels, which each measure 3½ by 7 feet, are about 25-30 percent more efficient than ones used four or five years ago. He also said about 4,533 feet of fencing surround the farm.

Williamson noted the El Dorado farm is one of 35 solar farms across Missouri which will share in the cost of construction and in energy collection, but added, “a lot of people are missing the idea of what this represents in the community, as well.”

“This is a power supply to the community that’s shared with the 35 cities,” Williamson said, “but there’s also opportunities being developed within the pool cities to where you can have some connection. You can have some investment into the project itself from the standpoint of making sure you’re tied with the community and developing that, and it’s a solar communities program which the pool and the cities are developing as a holistic program that you’ll hear more about in the coming weeks and days ahead, and you’ll have an opportunity to participate in.”

Williamson also said anyone can monitor the farm’s production by visiting www.mcpower.com and following a link showing how much energy the sun is producing at any given moment.

Marge Vance, El Dorado Springs economic development director, quoted statistics saying solar energy accounted for just 1.3 percent of all energy generated in the U.S. in 2017.

“This number, of course, will continue to grow more and more as we see more solar farms built, many of them right here in Missouri,” Vance said. “Renewable energy is the wave of the future and El Dorado Springs embraces that change.”

Duncan Kincheloe, president of the Missouri Public Utilities Alliance, talked about how the city’s municipal utility played a role in bringing the solar farm to fruition.

“You would be pleased to know,” Kincheloe said, “sitting in a community which runs and operates its own utility and has the control and ability to make the decision to make this sort of thing happen, that municipal utilities constitute 12 or so percent of the overall power supplied to Missourians. We provide more than 50 percent of the solar power being provided to customers here in the state of Missouri. The reason we’re doing it is not just because it sounds progressive, but it makes good sense, especially from the economic development perspective and the perspective of all the citizens who are going to be relying on this for reliable power.”

John Cook, executive vice-president of Gardner Capital, spoke on financing the project.

“The federal government has a tax credit program,” Cook said, “and what our job is, is to take the tax credits for the incentive and developing renewable energy, specifically solar, and monetize those so they can be used to pay for some of the costs, 40 percent or so of the cost of the project, so it can be affordable and it’s long-term.

“We also are involved in the debt financing piece of it as well and making sure that’s structured as well, over a 25- to 45-year period. Whatever it may be, we’ve got reliable and dependable energy for the city.”

Jackson Tough, executive director of the El Dorado Springs Chamber of Commerce, closed with more thoughts on the economic impact of the farm to the city.

“First of all, it creates a long-term sustainable source of clean energy,” Tough said. “Very, very important. It levels or even could possibly lower our cost of clean energy. It offers a distributed generation at the point of consumption, right here locally. The last thing is, it brings value and economic development to the community, and it offers our businesses the opportunity to identify with being green. That is so important today, and it’s going to be even more so tomorrow.”

Cedar County Presiding Commissioner Marlon Collins was impressed by what he saw.

“It went up fast, and with the situation with energy such as it is, and the opportunity to produce energy like this is a great benefit,” Collins said. “Also, it sheds a green light on Cedar County as being progressive toward green energy.”

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