Solar energy farm eyes Callaway

A 100-acre solar energy farm may be coming to Callaway County.

Bruce Hackmann, president and chief executive officer of the Fulton Area Development Corporation, confirmed Friday a firm is putting together a plan for a solar energy farm that would amass an array of solar panels in Callaway County.

Hackmann declined to disclose the name of the firm owning the proposed solar farm and the potential location in Callaway County.

He said the firm interested in developing a solar farm will be competing with about 20 other firms and no agreements have been reached.

“There are a lot of companies trying to get a foot in the door. If successful, they would provide solar power to utilities that are required by law to produce or purchase a certain amount of renewable energy. At this point none of them has an agreement with a utility that is required by the Proposition C initiative to buy solar power. The various companies are in the early stages of looking at and evaluating various sites,” Hackmann said.

He said it will depend on the company with the best site and the best price for solar power provided to utilities to buy their production.

Hackmann said a solar farm would provide about 100 jobs during the construction phase. But after it is in operation, the solar farm would require only a small crew to maintain the facilities.

The solar farm would occupy more than 100 acres in a rural area. “The requirements include a flat site that is fairly clear of trees to avoid the cost of leveling land or removing trees,” Hackmann said.

Hackmann said he has been discussing the potential solar farm with one firm for about one and one-half years.

The solar farm is feasible only because Missouri voters on Nov. 4, 2008, approved a citizen-initiated state law that requires privately owned utility companies to increase their use of renewable energy gradually until 15 percent of the energy used in state comes from renewable sources.

Proposition C requires private utilities to generate 2 percent of their power by renewable sources by 2011, 5 percent by 2014, 10 percent by 2018 and 15 percent by 2021.

Renewable sources permitted by the initiative petition include solar, wind, biomass (including ethanol) and hydropower.

The law does not apply to rural electric cooperatives or municipal-owned power plants. Two private utility firms — Ameren Missouri of St. Louis and Kansas City Power & Light of Kansas City — are covered by the law and perhaps a third. Before the law was approved by the voters, the Missouri General Assembly passed legislation exempting Empire District Electric Co. of Joplin from the pending initiative law. But the organization that created the initiative filed suit against the firm, contending that the legislature had no authority to exempt the Joplin firm from the law.

Missourians for Cleaner Cheaper Energy (MCCE) contends the legislature did not have the authority to approve the exemption because it was approved after initiative supporters submitted their petition signatures. MCCE also contends that even if lawmakers had the authority, the exemption conflicts with the initiative and should be nullified.

The issue is still unresolved in the courts. The lawsuit was filed in Cole County Circuit Court. It was dismissed by the court, saying that it was filed in the wrong jurisdiction. That Cole County Circuit Court decision has been appealed to the Western District Court of Appeals.

The initiative-approved law limits rate increases to pay for the extra cost of renewable energy to 1 percent a year. That could amount to a total rate increase of up to 18 percent during the 18-year period covered by the law.

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