Solar energy discussed at Holton commission meeting

Having a source of solar energy to help power Holton’s homes and businesses would be good for the city’s “portfolio” of power sources, Electrical Production Superintendent Ira Harrison told the Holton City Commission during its regular meeting on Monday.

Harrison and the city commissioners touched on the possibility of getting a source of solar energy for the city during discussion and eventual approval of the city’s “integrated resource plan” for the city’s electrical production department, a document necessary for the city to continue to receive power from the Western Area Power Authority (WAPA).

The city has been receiving 943 kilowatts of power from WAPA since 2010, Holton City Manager Kerwin McKee reminded commissioners. Updates to the city’s integrated resource plan, McKee said, are required by WAPA every five years so that the city can continue to receive WAPA’s allotment of power.

Harrison noted that WAPA is one of six external sources of power for Holton, the other five being the Southwestern Power Administration, the Grand River Dam Authority, NextEra Energy, Buckeye Wind Power and the Southwest Power Pool, all of which are funneled into the city through cooperation with the Kansas Municipal Energy Agency (KMEA).

Those sources are in addition to the generators at the city’s power plant, which are usually utilized during peak power usage times — Harrison said the generators are turned on when the city’s total power load exceeds eight megawatts — or during power outages.

But after Holton Mayor Robert Dieckmann inquired into whether the city could have a source of solar energy, Harrison reminded him that “we’ve talked solar almost every year” and that he would “like to see us get into some kind of solar project” in the near future, as other cities in the area have done.

“Osage City is getting ready to put in 1.5 megawatts (of solar power), and Baldwin City put in a megawatt,” Harrison told commissioners. 

In 2019, Holton had been looking at getting about 2.5 megawatts of power from a solar energy farm that was being developed in southwestern Kansas, Harrison noted, and other cities had also signed on through KMEA to get some power from that source. Unfortunately, he said, that plan was called off.

“Southwest Power Pool was conducting a transmission study for us,” Harrison said regarding the solar energy plan. “The problem was, this company didn’t want to wait around six months for Southwest to get the study done, so we lost out on that deal.”

Other solar energy farms, he added, refuse to wait for transmission studies to be done, and “they go elsewhere,” particularly where they can get tax breaks and cities have been willing to forgo the studies.

But with the cost of solar energy coming down — and Dieckmann’s addition that solar power sources are “so much better” than windmills — it may be more expedient for the city to consider such a source, rather than expect homeowners to consider putting up residential solar panels, mainly due to cost and “net metering” regulations within the city, Harrison said.

“I’m not saying you couldn’t make money, and a lot of people are putting in solar panels, but I’m guessing that a lot of it is the cost… It’s a minimum of about $10,000 to put a system in, if not more,” Harrison said. “At the end of the time you’re paying for it, did you really save any money? But it’s definitely coming down in cost, and I think you’re going to see it come down further.”

Another drawback to installing solar panels on residential roofs, McKee noted, is the need to remove and reinstall them when roof repairs need to be made — something that may add to a contractor’s costs when roofs need to be reshingled or rebuilt.

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The Holton Recorder

109 W. Fourth St.
Holton, KS 66436
Phone: 785-364-3141

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