Columbia employees begin work on Missouri's largest solar array

Monday, August 13, 2012 | 7:05 p.m. CDT; updated 8:42 p.m. CDT, Monday, August 13, 2012
Work on Missouri's largest solar array started Monday in northeast Columbia.

COLUMBIA — Work started Monday on what will be the largest solar energy array in Missouri.

When it is complete, the 3,500-panel solar array at the COLT Transload facility near Route B and Brown Station Road in northeast Columbia, will be rated for producing 1,000 kilowatt-hours of energy per hour. It is the second phase of the solar energy project at the building.

By comparison, the city’s current solar installations — at the West Ash Pumping Station, the Quaker Oats factory and Bright City Lights — are rated at 36.8 kilowatts.

Renewable energy — a combination of solar, wind, gas and waste wood — accounts for 5.9 percent of the city’s total power supply, said Tina Worley, utility services manager for Columbia Water and Light. Solar energy thus far provides less than 1 percent of the city’s total power usage of more than 1.1 million megawatt hours per year.

The city entered into a 20-year agreement in December 2010 to purchase solar-produced electricity from Omaha-based Free Power Co. Under the agreement, Free Power buys and installs the solar panels; the city is responsible for site preparation and for connecting the solar panel array to the city’s electricity grid.

Dane Glueck, president of the Missouri Solar Energy Industries Association, said the new array would be by far the largest in Missouri. Most of the larger installations he knows about are in the 100- to 200-kilowatt range, he said. An installation of about 1,000 panels on the roof of the transload facility building, which represented the first phase of the project, is being tied into the power grid and is rated at 375 kilowatts.

City of Columbia employees using backhoes, bulldozers and dump trucks began clearing the field east of the transload building Monday morning.

Jay Hasheider, energy services supervisor with Columbia Water and Light, said the field where the array is being built has been in need of remediation since the city bought the property, and the cost of clearing and grading the site will be paid for with the city's solar project money.

The other project sites will not require this "remediation," Hasheider said. 

The site should be ready by the end of the week, Hasheider said, and the array should be installed and operational by October. Several other sites are being considered for  future Free Power arrays, he said.

“We hope to have this one done in October, and then we hope the rest of them start going like dominoes,” Hasheider said.

When all the projects are completed, an estimated 12,000 megawatt-hours could be delivered to the city, according to the city’s 2012 Renewable Energy Report, issued in February. A megawatt is 1,000 kilowatts.

Stormwater runoff from the site is a concern, but city engineers have a plan to deal with it, said Public Works Department engineer Tom Wellman.

"The whole array is basically one big rooftop," Wellman said. "There's already a detention basin on site to help slow the water down, but we're planning to handle it mostly with native plants and grasses."

The solar panels sit on pilings about 6 feet off the ground, which allows enough ambient light to filter beneath them to nourish the native grass.

After three or four years, he said, the root system of the plants would be well established, and "with the whole field covered with native grasses," Wellman said, "that's as good a stormwater runoff management system as you can get."

For more information about the city’s solar energy projects, visit Columbia Water and Light.

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Gary Straub August 14, 2012 | 9:41 a.m.

Ironically the Change of weather brought on - at least in part - by the traditional sources of power, will allow this non-polluting source to better function. Kudos to Columbia!

(Report Comment)
Mark Foecking August 14, 2012 | 10:48 a.m.

"will be rated for producing 1,000 kilowatt-hours of energy per hour."

It would be more correct to express this as energy production per year, as the array would not be producing at night, in very cloudy weather, or if covered by snow. In this part of the country, you get an average of 5 hours of full production sunlight.

375 KW x 3500/1000 = 1300 KW of final array, which will produce 6.5 megawatt hours/day, or a bit over 1 megawatt-hour/hour at peak sun. That's 2.3 gigawatt-hours (2,300 megawatt-hours/year). I do understand the city plans to install three or four more comparable arrays.

If the 12,000 megawatt-hour production total is realized, please observe that is only a bit more than 1% of the 1,100,000 megawatt hour demand of the city. It is also dependent on fossil fuel backup to produce useful electricity. So while it's a step, I think people need to understand how truly small a step it is.

We use too much energy to have any hope of replacing a significant quantity of it with sources like this in any of our lifetimes. The only way this will work is to push for much greater efficiency and conservation, which is a really hard sell in the US.


(Report Comment)
John Schultz August 14, 2012 | 12:44 p.m.

Gary, can you explain your comment since I can't think of anything mandkind could have done with past power sources to change the tilt of the earth or the amount of sunlight striking it?

(Report Comment)
David Sautner August 14, 2012 | 4:08 p.m.

It's better than nothing. Way to go!

(Report Comment)
Richard Saunders August 14, 2012 | 4:30 p.m.

John, I'll bet that Gary likely believes the fakery of "climate change" also causes less clouds (you, know, 'cause it's hotter then).

I think it's hilarious that he also considers solar panels "non-polluting" sources, when the energy required to make them mostly all comes from coal. Then there's the fact that they all contain rare-earth metals that mostly all are mined in China, meaning that they rely on an energy-intensive extraction/refinement process (more coal and oil), then have to be shipped half-way around the world just to get here (oil again).

As most government "improvement" projects, they only work as advertised if you ignore most of real costs. The rare-earth issue itself should be enough to get the attention of environmentalists, but to do so would require them to admit they fell victim to the Siren Song of the political class.

And that apparently, outranks the reality of inefficiency of current solar energy technology.

(Report Comment)
frank christian August 14, 2012 | 4:41 p.m.

A solar powered boat has now traversed the globe. No other power than the 30hp electric motor driven by 38,000 solar cells. No speed records were set. Took 584 days.

The international team of navel architects and engineers that own the 115-footer say they might sell. "The only problem is, what you'd save on fuel, you'd probably have to spend on Windex!"

(Report Comment)
Mark Foecking August 15, 2012 | 9:07 a.m.

Richard Saunders wrote:

"I think it's hilarious that he also considers solar panels "non-polluting" sources, when the energy required to make them mostly all comes from coal."

Life cycle assessments have solar PV coming in at around 50 kg CO2/megawatt hour, while coal fired electricity is almost 1000. So even with the embodied energy in the panels, you get a very significant saving over coal. The main problem with PV is the random nature of its generation.

Nuclear generally comes in at about 1/2 of solar PV in kg CO2/MWH, BTW, and it is dispatchable (although most suited for baseload power and not load following).

1% of total energy demand is really little better than nothing. Reducing phantom loads by 20% (rebates for power strips, perhaps?) could have reduced demand by 1% and cost a small fraction of what this cost. (I know the city isn't buying the panels, but there are still hefty subsidies going into these installations from the federal gov't). Electricity use in Columbia is projected to grow by about 2%/year anyway. It doesn't matter if we install these or not. Honestly.


(Report Comment)
Gary Straub August 15, 2012 | 9:09 a.m.

I realize that the flat earth folks - - probably can't understand how even innovation evolves. However even though your heads are stuck deep into the sand, change continues to be the only constant.

As for the ignorant remarks about global warming, there must be a lot of bliss in this crowd.

(Report Comment)

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