Proposed solar farm at Kansas City airport could power 70,000 houses, study finds

·4 min read
Courtesy of the City of Kansas City/The City of Kansas City

A solar farm could eventually power thousands of Kansas City homes near the Kansas City International Airport, according to the city’s feasibility study.

It found that more than 3,100 acres of undeveloped land could be used to produce 500 megawatts of electricity — that would power 70,000 homes, one of the largest such farms in the country and the largest at a U.S. airport.

The study recommends a phased approach to build quickly and cost-effectively. The first phase with an investment of $9-15 million would install panels on 136 acres, producing 35 megawatts, that would power 4,500 homes.

“If we’re ever going to make significant positive transformational change, we have to think big and bold and aggressively with our solution and our ideas,” City Manager Brian Platt said. “And this is as big and bold and aggressive as it gets. … It will transform the way we provide energy to residents and will have an astronomical positive impact on the health of our residents.”

Platt said the study was less about whether the farm was possible, but more about exactly what it could do.

Platt said the biggest challenge he’s expecting will be the regulatory process. With such a large amount of solar in one location, the city will have to go through utility-level approval, as well as local, state and federal regulators.

He said the city will begin the search for a builder late this summer or early fall.

“The proposed solar installation is a huge step in creating options for clean, solar energy as we address Kansas City’s commitment to climate resiliency and sustainability,” Councilwoman Andrea Bough, District 6 at-large, said in a news release. “Not only will we be able to put to use land that has limited use, but we will be able to provide solar power to our residents on a large scale.”

Evergy spokeswoman Gina Penzig said in a statement that the company is reviewing the study.

“The study is encouraging, noting solid options to build meaningful solar at the airport,” Penzig said. “We remain interested in partnering with the City to build solar at KCI.”

‘We’ve got to do more’

Platt said there are three primary benefits. One is the reduction in carbon emissions. In 2020, coal power plants produced 70% of Missouri’s electricity. Shifting to solar power would reduce that.

“We’ve got to do more to protect our energy systems and our supply,” Platt said, “so that we can minimize interruptions to our power supply.”

Then there’s the energy cost: The cheaper energy is to make, the lower the bills.

In addition, the city has been concerned about the resiliency of the grid since the 2021 rolling blackouts, Platt said.

“The City Council has set goal after goal for becoming a more resilient organization, and this is a great way to do that,” Mayor Quinton Lucas said in a news release. “We can lead this nation by showing how to use land that otherwise just sits there, and potentially help our residents who struggle with high energy bills. We believe we can make a good case to our federal officials that this project will produce results.”

Billy Davies, a conservation program coordinator with Missouri’s chapter of the Sierra Club, said the project at the airport shows Kansas City’s commitment to addressing the climate crisis.

The move, he said, “is the type that helps inspire action across the city and across the region.”

Platt said it will improve the overall health of Kansas City, especially the disproportionate impacts of climate change on the East Side. Platt said reduced carbon emissions, better air quality and improved overall health of the city will benefit residents across the city and especially those bearing the brunt of emissions.

“This proposed solar farm brings us one large step closer to decreasing our carbon emissions,” Councilman Eric Bunch, District 4, said in a news release. “Cutting emissions by investing in proven renewable energy technology is just another way Kansas City will stay on the forefront of the future energy landscape.”

What’s next?

The city will start looking for a private partner to construct the solar array. It will work with state and federal environmental agencies on reviews and permits. The city will also work on coordination with local and regional utility officials and companies.

The first phase of construction could start within the next 12 to 18 months.

Officials are still determining what entity would be responsible for management of the solar array.

The project comes as Kansas City is also working on updates to its Climate Protection and Resiliency Plan, which is set to come before the City Council in July. Climate activists recently rallied outside City Hall in support of the plan.

The council is also considering new building codes that would require new construction to go greener to help the city reach its climate goals.

By 2040, the city plans to become carbon neutral.

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