Solar comes to windy Kansas

Article by Kevin Christy, Head of Innovation & Operational Excellence, Americas: 

Kansas is squarely placed in the center of America’s wind tunnel, a corridor stretching from North Dakota south into the Texas panhandle. So it’s no surprise that wind power plays an important role in Kansas energy supply and economy. Since the beginning of 2008, wind generating capacity in Kansas has more than tripled to 4,451 megawatts, making Kansas one of the top 5 wind energy states in the nation, second only to Texas.

So why solar in Kansas?

Wind energy has been fantastic for Kansas as a low-cost and renewable source of energy, as well as an economic stimulus. But wind tends to be most abundant when Kansans need it the least, during the night in the winter. Solar on the other hand generates most during the hot days of summer, which just happens to coincide with peak electricity demand in Kansas – from about 1 – 8 pm June through September.

But don’t just take my word for it. I recently attended a groundbreaking event for the largest solar farm in Kansas, called Johnson Corner Solar. Lightsource BP will be financing, building, and operating the solar farm and selling the electricity to a cooperative owned wholesale generation and transmission utility in the state, Sunflower Electric Power Corp., through commonly owned Mid-Kansas Electric Company.

In the words of Stuart Lowry, president and CEO of Mid-Kansas and Sunflower: “Our system is summer peaking, which means energy demand is highest during those months. In contrast to wind facilities, which generate the most energy during winter night hours, this project will generate energy on hot, summer days, providing protection against high market prices during those times.”

Benefits beyond low-cost, clean electricity

Another valuable benefit of the Johnson Corner Solar project is that it’s being built at a location where it will reduce loading on an existing transmission line that’s currently operating near its full capacity. This will defer or eliminate a costly transmission upgrade that would otherwise be needed in the near future. Obviously, that’s great news for electric ratepayers.

Now, we love that solar is a clean and predictable power source – but our primary mission at Lightsource BP is to build projects that make sense and can save money for utilities and customers, so the competitive price and added benefits for the Mid-Kansas transmission system really make this project an exciting milestone for all of us.

I think Johnson Corner Solar is going to get a lot of positive attention throughout the cooperative utility community, and I hope that this is the first of many more large-scale solar farms across Kansas. The growth of renewables in America is providing Kansas workers and families with new opportunities for employment, new markets for their crops and new income streams from their properties.

Farmers around the world are realizing the benefits of farming solar as an additional source of income that’s predictable for 25 years or more.

About the author:

Kevin Christy is a veteran renewable energy industry executiveHe co-founded and served as COO of utility-scale solar developer Axio Power from 2007, which developed a >1,000MW pipeline of projects and was acquired by SunEdison in 2011. While at SunEdison, Kevin managed the North American utility-scale development portfolio and later served as COO of the North America Utility team. He also served as General Manager of North America for SunEdison’s Global Services O&M and asset management team, negotiated gigawatts of PV O&M agreements, and served on the Advanced Solutions energy storage team developing next-generation commercial applications for battery energy storage. During his tenure as General Manager of SunEdison’s Global Services O&M and asset management team, Kevin oversaw the operation of 3.7GW of assets across North America.