Independence mulls large solar farm

INDEPENDENCE, Mo. -- Independence officials could build the state's largest solar farm as part of a continuing push to expand the city's use of renewable energy.

In July, the city set a goal for the city-owned Independence Power and Light to produce at least 10 percent of its power from renewable energy by 2018 and 15 percent by 2021. At least part of that goal would be reached with a proposed 10 megawatt solar farm on land in northeast Independence.

The city then received inquiries from "all over the country" from companies interested in building the solar farm, said City Manager Robert Heacock.

The city extended its deadline for submitting proposals to Dec. 23, The Independence Examiner reported. Daggett said he hopes to receive 10 to 12 solid proposals and that the city could reach its 10 percent goal by 2016 or 2017.

"If we can deliver on the goal that the council set a little earlier, that's just icing on the cake," he said.

IPL is required to have capacity for more than 300 megawatts of power. The utility already uses some wind energy from a farm in Kansas and is reviewing some proposals to increase its use of wind power.

The city council recently received reports on its renewable energy potential and a memo from IPL Director Leon Daggett summarizing progress to date, but it has not formally taken up the reports or considered how to pay for the projects, Daggett said.

"It's kind of new ground," he said.

The report from engineering firm Burns & McDonnell suggested a solar farm would be built with private financing and IPL would buy the power. A private company, unlike a city, would be eligible for government incentives.

That report also suggested IPL increase marketing to help homeowners and businesses with energy efficiency and related issues but Daggett noted that municipal utilities have to be careful about spending tax dollars on marketing.