City of Kansas City wants to build it
As rates of electricity consumption elevate and global changes are observed, Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas is advocating for switching to renewable energy by powering Kansas City with a solar farm on city land south and west of the Kansas City International Airport in Platte County.
Lucas, in a statement provided to The Landmark, said: “As our city and cities around the world work to address a changing climate, Kansas City is proud to explore bold and creative strategies to protect our residents and our environment. This solar farm could be one of the largest and most ambitious solar projects in our country to date, span thousands of acres, cover electricity needs for a sizable portion of city, and help us march toward our goal of carbon neutrality by 2040. I look forward to the continued development of a framework to accomplish this goal.”
Two weeks ago, Lucas and City Manager Brian Platt traveled to Washington, D.C. to pitch their large-scale solar power initiative to the entire federal delegation. Lucas devoted real effort to securing potential infrastructure funds for renewables, and he may have also forged a valuable partnership with a lab that is part of the Department of Energy.
Right now, the city is conducting a feasibility study to quantify the total solar-powered energy generated, the efficiency of a solar farm, and how much land would need to be sacrificed.
Tentatively, a vast majority of the solar panels would be south and southwest of the new $1.5 billion airport terminal currently underway at KCI. A narrow section of solar panels would be to the west along the new runway.
“In a broad sense, we know we have approximately 4,000 to 5,000 acres that we believe are suitable for placing solar panels,” said Chris Hernandez, director of city communications. “We are probably only going to put panels on about 2,000 or so of those acres. The question is where do those panels go on that 5,000 acre plot of land.”
Presently, the city estimates the solar farm would generate almost 300 megawatts of electricity. The electricity generated by the solar farm could potentially make it the largest solar farm owned and operated by any city in the country.
“This isn’t about just providing electricity for the new airport terminal or our municipal buildings, this could potentially generate clean power close to home for anyone in Kansas City,” said Hernandez.
The main inspiration behind the proposed project is the visible changes that have happened on planet Earth, said Hernandez.
“It has been a set goal for some time that we reduce our carbon footprint and that we go to more renewable energy, so this is one way to go big to reach that goal.
“We are doing this project because we see what is happening with climate change and one of those things you hear people talk about is that we need to be more resilient. So, what does that mean? It means, in our case, in Kansas City, we need to be more energy independent.”
For example, in light of last February’s cold snap that left customers without power during intermittent shut-offs and sent electricity prices to an all-time high, city officials are hopeful that energy independence will prevent Kansas Citians from experiencing a similar crisis.
A second and more important reason for scaling up renewables is the “astronomically high number of children with asthma” in Kansas City, officials indicated.
The idea is that transitioning over to cleaner forms of energy would improve the air quality in Kansas City.
“Our health department has been quite concerned about these rates and has had us doing work on this for quite some time,” said Hernandez.
Right now, no one has been assigned to the helm of this massive solar farm.
Ideally, city officials want to develop a public-private partnership and are poised to issue a request for proposals in 2022. City officials anticipate when the feasibility results come in, they will have a better idea if their plan is more attainable through a second or third-party relationship.
In the absence of a partnership, city officials indicate they are willing to go all-out to catapult Kansas City as one of the top five largest solar operations in the nation and are optimistic this green technology can be carried out without raising taxes, claiming the output of energy over time could pay for the construction.
As part of the decision to go whole hog on this undertaking, city officials will also rely on the feasibility study, which looks at the possibility of photovoltaic glare effects that can affect the visibility of pilots. There may be a continual balancing act between the ideal angle for optimum energy production and simply preventing a photovoltaic glare.
“We know that there are multiple airports around the country that have solar installations that are approximately the same distance from the runway that these will be,” said Hernandez.
Denver is one example and its solar farm generates 10-megawatts with 42,614 solar panels.
Some contend that solar panels are not that efficient, capturing only a diminutive amount of energy even in the best of conditions. The conversion efficiency of solar panels is between 11 and 15 percent each year.
Hernandez recognizes that the city doesn’t know the exact rate of efficiency but will soon know more from the feasibility study.
“That’s the point of working on projects like this: to see where we can take it,” said Hernandez. “We are at a very low level of usage of renewable energy right now. So simply moving the needle to a much higher usage of renewable energy will teach us and the country a lot about how to do that better.”
Last year, the share of electricity generated from solar was about two percent and wind energy was the source of about eight percent of electricity in the U.S.
Typically, solar power facilities tend to be in sufficiently sunny locations, where a succession of angled mirror panels and lenses can capture and focus sunshine at such an immense concentration that it emits steam. The steam rises and strikes turbines, which continue to spin, thereby, generating electricity. Additionally, electricity is produced within the layers of the solar panels.
Some observers are quick to point out that ductile metals used in the turbines wiring and inside the batteries that house the electricity come from operations in merely two countries in South America. As scaling up on environmentally friendly technologies continues, the United States will struggle to obtain the metals it needs within its own borders.
Many observers are also beginning to ask themselves one critical question. If we need to map out solar farms on adjacent airport land, is it time to recognize that air travel is one of the least eco-friendly ways to travel, as many airplanes use approximately one gallon of fuel every second?