HAYS - Midwest Energy electricity customers will soon have an opportunity to buy into solar energy generation without having to install solar panels on their homes or businesses.
The Hays-based utility has signed an agreement with community solar developer Clean Energy Collective of Colorado to build a 1-megawatt solar photovoltaic array, according to an announcement from the companies.
The project will be the largest solar array in Kansas, with some 4,000 solar panels aligned across about six acres. The "solar garden" will be located within the Midwest Energy service territory, although a final location hasn't been determined, said Mike Morley, corporate communications manager with Midwest Energy.
"There are a couple of sites we're looking at, but it's an ongoing deal," Morley said.
Customers can purchase from one to up to 26 of the 300-watt panels, he said.
"They can buy as many as they want, up to 78 kilowatts," though depending on their annual energy usage, said Morley.
The customers will contract with Clean Energy Collective to buy the panels, and then credit against their monthly Midwest Energy electric bill equal to the energy created by their panels.
"It's a full ownership scenario," said Tim Braun, a spokesman for Clean Energy Collective. "Generally we look at a customer's energy demand and give them options for fully offsetting their electric power with renewable energy, or increments thereof. We give them a range of pricing and power and they choose which way they want to go."
The panels can be purchased fully up front, or there are financing options over time.
"Most of the arrays we build are big enough that several hundred customers, whether businesses or consumers, can fully offset their needs," Braun said.
Final pricing hasn't been determined, but should be in a week or so,
"We hope to have the project operational by the end of this year," Morley said. "The actual construction phase, even for a project of this size, just takes a couple of months. The time-consuming part is the land negotiations, permitting processes, etc."
The purchase price for panels will include all available rebates and tax incentives, as if the system were located on the customer's roof, Morley noted.
"Customers get the benefits of solar ownership, yet bypass the research, construction and ongoing maintenance and repair required of a rooftop system," Morley said. "It also provides the flexibility of having the energy credits move with each owner, as long as they stay within the utility territory, and have the ability to resell their panels at any time."
"We're excited to be the first utility in Kansas to offer community-owned solar to our members," John Blackwell, chairman of Midwest Energy's board of directors, stated in a news release. "Our customers have signaled they're supportive of renewable energy, and we're pleased to bring this solar ownership opportunity to them."
Midwest Energy Inc. is a member-owned electric and natural gas cooperative, with about 50,000 electric customers in 41 central and western Kansas counties.
Clean Energy Collective established the first community-owned solar garden in the country in 2010 near El Jebel, Colo. Since that time, it has built or has under development more than 40 such projects with 18 utility partners across seven states, representing 26 MW of solar capacity.