Sunshine will soon be a commodity Heartland Electric and FreeState Electric Cooperatives will be purchasing right from their own backyard.
Heartland Electric Cooperative and FreeState Electric Cooperative is joining 10 other Kansas electric cooperatives to invest in over 20 Megawatts of solar power, making a small investment for the next 25 years or more in the harvesting of sunshine will procure low-up-front cost solar energy to serve their membership through the Kansas Cooperative Sun Power Program (KCSPP) and reduce their peak demand.
Participating in the KCSPP is a partnership with Today’s Power, Inc. (TPI) to harvest sunshine. Heartland and FreeState Electric Cooperatives will be constructing two 1 Megawatt (MW) farms in their service territory.
Heartland’s portion of the project consists of two solar arrays of 1 Megawatt (MW) each. Preliminary work has already begun on the two tracts of land purchased by Heartland for the project. Construction should be completed by June of 2021.
One Heartland 1-MW array will be located just west of Girard near Greenbush along Highway 47. The second Heartland 1-MW solar array will be built between Erie and Chanute along 160th Road (Shaw Road.)
The two Heartland solar arrays, and the 18 other arrays in Kansas, will all be built and owned by Today’s Power Inc, a North Little Rock-based company established by rural electric cooperatives in Arkansas. Today’s Power Inc. has successfully installed more than 25 solar projects totaling more than 40 Megawatts over the last five years in Arkansas, Oklahoma and Tennessee. Heartland has signed a purchased-power-agreement with Today’s Power Inc. to buy the solar energy produced by the two arrays for the next 25 years.
“Like those we serve, Heartland wants to be good stewards of our resources,” says Heartland CEO Mark Scheibe. “We live and work in rural Kansas for a reason. What we do helps feed and fuel America, and this project will help us provide affordable power for our consumer-members.” “Everyone in rural Kansas works hard for their money and deserves some of the financial security that these solar projects will provide,” says Scheibe. “Heartland is here not just to sell electricity, but to promote the quality of life here in rural Kansas.” “Investing in utility-scale solar is the most cost-effective way to benefit all consumer-members of the cooperative, while also investing in a green, clean, renewable source of generation right here in our own community,” says Scheibe.
National data shows that solar power is growing quickly across the country. Heartland currently has more than 60 members benefiting from the almost 700KW of solar panels installed on their own property. Investing in these two large arrays means that all of Heartland’s consumer-members will benefit from the clean, affordable power supplied, not just those that put panels on their own homes.
Heartland’s investment in solar is just one more way the cooperative works to lower power use during peak hours and control the cost of power. Since 2013, Heartland’s Peak Savers program has successfully enlisted co-op consumer-members to voluntarily reduce their use of power during peak hours. Over the past eight years, Heartland has paid Peak Savers more than $250,000 to program participants for helping lower peak power use during the summer.
Heartland Rural Electric Cooperative provides power to more than 11,000 locations in Southeast and Eastern Kansas. Heartland’s service area includes consumer-members in 12 counties, including Allen, Anderson, Bourbon, Cherokee, Coffey, Crawford, Labette, Linn, Miami, Neosho, Wilson, and Woodson counties. Heartland REC traces its roots back to three original rural electric cooperatives, Cooperative Electric Power & Light Company, Sugar Valley Electric Cooperative Association, (which came together to form United Electric Cooperative in 1975) and Sekan Electric Cooperative Association (which combined to become Heartland in 1996.)
One of the two FreeState sun farms will be located in Jefferson County (Oskaloosa Sun Farm) south of Oskaloosa on HWY 59, and the other northeast of Tonganoxie near the Stranger Substation (Stranger Creek Sun Farm). Both solar farms will be located in the co-op’s east district due to the power supplier contracts.
Both sites are expected to be completed by June of 2021.
Steve Foss, CEO of FreeState says the project is something that has been on the cooperative’s radar for some time, but they needed the right formula to make it happen.
“The low-cost investment opportunity we were presented with was huge for FreeState,” said Foss. “This goes hand in hand with the investment we made in 2018 to install industrial generators at the Lakewood Hills and Oskaloosa substations. The purpose of the large investment was to save money through peak demand management. This solar project is a much smaller investment and the ability to help manage that demand along with purchasing power at the best price we can.” “We are committed to saving members money, and that means saving money on the wholesale cost of electricity, which adds up to about 67% of the cooperatives annual expenses,” Foss added. “FreeState has clear financial goals, and we look at everything very carefully to determine the feasibility of a project and investment and how it will impact our members in a positive way.”
Harvesting sun as part of the KCSPP will bring financial savings and rate stability to the cooperative.
“The two solar farms we’re building will help us reach that financial goal of rate stability over the long-term,” added Foss. “Not only will members save money, but their carbon footprint will also be smaller.”
FreeState currently has more than 1 MW of energy produced by member owned solar panels. Investing in these two large arrays means that FreeState’s consumer-members will benefit from the clean, affordable power supplied, not just those that put panels on their own homes.
With 14,974 members and 20,551 service points FreeState Electric Cooperative is the largest rural electric cooperative in Eastern Kansas and the fifth largest rural electric cooperative in the state of Kansas. FreeState serves nine Kansas counties and provides distribution infrastructure to Fort Leavenworth. For more information visit http://www.freestate.coop, as well as Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.
This opportunity began when the wholesale power contract between all participating cooperatives and their forward-thinking generation and transmission cooperative, Kansas Electric Power Cooperatives, was recently modified to provide Kansas electric cooperatives with the ability to self-procure up to 15% of peak demand – with 5% of that amount specifically allowing for the addition of solar.
By joining together in the Kansas Cooperative Sun Power Program, all of the participating Kansas rural electric cooperatives were able to negotiate very competitive long-term pricing. In addition, the solar arrays will be customized in the design process to maximize output during the cooperative’s peak demand hours, when power is most expensive. These factors will all help Heartland Electric and FreeState Electric Cooperatives control power costs and keep power affordable for their members.
By joining together in Today’s Power Kansas Cooperative Sun Power Program, all of the participating Kansas rural electric cooperatives were able to negotiate very competitive long-term pricing. In addition, the solar arrays will be customized in the design process to maximize output during the cooperative’s peak demand hours, when power is most expensive. These factors will all help Heartland Electric and FreeState Electric Cooperatives control power costs and keep power affordable for their members.
“TPI was created to serve rural America and the partnership with our Kansas neighbors provides more opportunities to help lower cost, make local investment which helps the local economy and increases the tax base which brings additional funding to those communities,” said Michael Henderson, President of TPI. “The Kansas electric cooperatives really have a passion for serving their members and improving their quality of life,” he went on to say.