Springfield utility planning big solar project

Monday, September 23, 2013 | 4:42 p.m. CDT

SPRINGFIELD — A Springfield utility, a St. Louis development company and a North Carolina solar company are planning to build what would be the largest solar farm in the state of Missouri, officials say.

The 4.95-megawatt system will be built close to a City Utilities generation station near Springfield and would produce enough energy to power about 875 homes there, the Springfield News-Leader reported.

City Utilities in Springfield, Solexus Development in St. Louis and Strata Solar of North Carolina were expected to finalize a 25-year agreement on Monday, with construction to begin next spring.

Under the agreement, Solexus will develop the project and Strata Solar will build, finance and operate it, with City Utilities connecting the system to existing infrastructure and buying the power.

"It brings some balance to the (energy) portfolio, and prices have dropped to the point that it makes sense," said Steve Stodden, assistant general manager of electric supply for City Utilities. "It made sense before, but the price was astonishingly high."

The solar farm will occupy what is currently a buffer zone between the utility's McCartney Generation Station and private land, and will provide power during high-demand periods, Stodden said.

David Bunge, president of Solexus Development, said solar stations are growing in popularity because the costs to build them have dropped and incentives, particularly in Europe, have led to increased demand.

"Solar tends to generate right at peak times, helps manage peak loads, and it has benefits to reducing wear and tear on the grid. That makes it more attractive," Bunge said.

City Utilities is already spending money to make its power stations comply with environmental regulations and anticipates that renewable energy sources will become more important in the future, Stodden said.

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