Heartland Rural Electric Cooperative, Girard, is a distribution cooperative that has members in Bourbon County.
“What we do is buy wholesale power and distribute it to homes, farms, and businesses over our poles and wires,” said Doug Graham, Communication Specialist for Heartland Rural Electric Cooperative, Inc. “So we don’t do much in the realm of generating electricity.”
Heartland provides service to around 11,250 meters, with around 1,700 located in Bourbon County, said Graham.
Heartland Adds Solar
“Within the last few years, it became apparent that we could reduce our wholesale power bill by using some locally generated solar energy,” he said. “We worked with our power supplier (KEPCo) to amend our contract so we and other cooperatives would be allowed to generate or otherwise procure up to 15% of our peak power demand, with 5% of that amount specifically allowing for the addition of solar.”
“The way we’ve approached solar has been to work with a company called Today’s Power, Inc. (TPI) to build solar farms on sites very close to our distribution substations,” he said. “We buy the land and lease it to TPI, and then TPI builds, operates, and maintains all the solar equipment.”
“We have long-term agreements with TPI to purchase the electricity generated by the solar farms at a set rate, which reduces how much energy we have to buy off the market,” Graham said. “This is especially beneficial during peak times when electricity is most expensive.”
In May 2021 Heartland built two 1-MW solar farms, one at Greenbush and the other at Urbana.
“The solar farm has a direct benefit to Heartland members in that it helps keep rates stable by reducing our wholesale power cost,” Graham said. “Having it be a clean and locally generated source of energy is a nice bonus.”
After they came online, the solar farms proved very effective at reducing costs, he said.
“We decided to pursue two slightly smaller (750 kW) solar arrays near our Devon and Linn substations,” he said. “The Devon array came online in the spring of 2023, while the Linn array is still in development. We have no other solar projects in development.”
The one in Bourbon County is located at 135th St. and Range Rd., just east of Heartland’s Devon distribution substation.
The 750 kW solar array powers around 130 homes.
These arrays are relatively small in utility terms, with a footprint of around seven acres for each, he said.
“The energy generated at each solar farm is used right away by the members on those substations,” he said. “It’s all local. In fact, we’re not allowed to push energy back onto the transmission grid, which is why it’s very important that we size our solar systems just right to match what our members served on those substations can actually use.”
“These solar farms are part of a larger statewide initiative called the Kansas Cooperative Sun Power Program, a partnership between TPI and 11 other Kansas co-ops. Joining forces with the other cooperatives helped everyone secure better pricing,” Graham said.
Solar Has Saved On Wholesale Power Bill
“So far this year, our three solar farms have saved us roughly 2.5% off of our wholesale power bill versus what we would have had to pay if we didn’t have solar in place to reduce the peak demand,” he said. “It’s a small thing we can do to help control costs while staying within the parameters of our contract with our power supplier. In a way, it’s a lot like what we ask our members to do on peak days in the summer: make small adjustments to your usage and save a little bit on your bill, which in turn adds up to significant savings for the co-op as a whole. That helps keep rates from climbing as fast as everything else these days.”
Is There a Sound Issue?
For neighbors the sound of the arrays is minimal.
“There’s a bit of a hum from the inverters that turn the DC power generated by the solar panels into AC power that can be used in homes, but it’s not very loud,” he said. “You could carry on a conversation at normal volume right next to the inverters. We haven’t had any complaints whatsoever.”