Work is underway on the first of what could be several solar sites built in Southwest Missouri by Liberty Utilities.
The 2.25-megawatt solar site will be built on 60 acres of leased land in Prosperity close to Missouri Highway 249.
"This is part of the old Superfund (site) so we are thrilled to be able to use that facility," said Drew Landoll, director of strategic projects for Liberty. The site is leased from a private property owner, and about 15 acres will be needed for the solar panels themselves. Because it is reclaimed mining land with restrictions on use, Liberty also had to sign an agreement with the Environmental Protection Agency.
"They are encouraging; they are excited," Landoll said. "This, in my opinion, is one of the best uses for that land."
The utility hopes to have work completed in December and the site producing power in January.
It is the first of a number of such sites to be built in Southwest Missouri, each generating between 2 and 5 megawatts. Landoll said Liberty's goal is 30 megawatts overall from solar, sometime in the next three to five years, and the utility is actively searching for more sites in the region.
Landoll said the 2.25-megawatt site will generate the equivalent in energy of that consumed by about 400 homes in the area.
The project also has been approved by the Missouri Public Service Commission.
Beginning Friday, customers will be able to contact Liberty about signing up for its Solar Subscription Program that will let them voluntarily subscribe to the solar produced by Liberty in 500-watt blocks. There will be 4,500 blocks produced by this first solar site and available to Liberty customers.
Customers will be able to purchase blocks of solar power, with the length of the agreement depending upon the amount of blocks purchased.
Each 500-watt block will cost $5.72 a month, as well as a monthly distribution charge of 4 cents per kilowatt-hour, so the actual cost will vary with usage.
Empire officials said the all-in cost for customers who sign up for the program could be around 14 cents per kilowatt-hour, compared to about 13 cents on average per kilowatt-hour currently.
Greg Tillman, senior manager of rates and regulatory affairs, said that one advantage of buying solar is that the cost for solar will never go up during the length of the contract.
A typical Liberty customer, defined as someone using 1,000 kilowatt-hours per month, would be eligible to sign up for five blocks, and the usage cost would be $132.29, compared to a monthly electric bill of $131.84 without solar, according to Liberty, although neither of those totals includes taxes or other charges that also are part of the regular monthly bills.
However, customers who subscribe to solar also have to pay a one-time upfront fee — Empire officials called it a "down payment" — of $25 per block. That typical customer then would have to pay $125 to subscribe to those five blocks.
Kelli Price, spokesperson for Liberty, said the company will have experts available to work with customers and help them assess the impact on their bills if they are interested.
She also said customers can subscribe to the amount of blocks that is equal to or less than 50% of their average annual usage over the past 24 months.
Price said that for the first 90 days, Liberty will hold 50% of the blocks for residential customers. Customers also can be placed on a waiting list as additional solar generation is brought online.
Landoll said that the story for solar is comparable to that of wind — costs for building generating sites is coming down, while at the same time efficiency has increased. He said the cost for generating solar has dropped nearly 90% relative to where it was a decade ago.