Thousands of undeveloped acres near Kansas City International Airport could one day house one of the nation’s largest airport solar farms, capable of powering up to a third of Kansas City homes.
Kansas City has completed a feasibility study that outlines the steps and challenges for bringing a full-scale solar farm to KCI. In the coming months, City Manager Brian Platt said, the city will be soliciting proposals from solar power developers to work on the project.
“It is our vision and our goal to lead the way and lead the charge by thinking outside the box and being bold, aggressive and innovative in trying to make progress in the fight against climate change here and reducing our carbon emissions,” Platt said.
The solar farm could have a capacity of 285 megawatts, according to the upcoming feasibility study, with appropriate grid infrastructure upgrades. If crews removed trees and other environmental features, the site could produce more than 500 megawatts, enough to power about a third of the city’s homes.
Mayor Quinton Lucas said he was impressed with the size of the facility.
“I mean, not just powering the facilities, not just powering the airport,” Lucas said, “but you’re talking over the course of a few years, powering all of Northland.”
This is not the first attempt to bring a solar farm to the airport. Evergy, the investor-owned utility serving the Kansas City metro, dropped plans in late 2020 for a smaller solar panel atop a parking lot currently under construction as part of the airport’s new terminal, according to Energy News Network. A technical study revealed that this arrangement could create glare affecting air traffic controllers.
Utility spokeswoman Gina Penzig said in an email that Evergy was reviewing the feasibility study, conducted by the Kansas City Department of Aviation and two engineering firms.
“The study is encouraging, noting strong options for building meaningful solar power at the airport,” Penzig said. “We remain interested in partnering with the city to build solar power at KCI.”
Evergy declined to comment further.
Last year, the utility scaled back plans to add 700 megawatts of solar power by 2024.
After the first iteration was stalled, Platt said Kansas City officials were driving the process “with much more emphasis, focus and aggression.”
“So we’re taking a new approach,” Platt said, “and making sure we do it anyway.”
The installation should be reviewed by the Southwest Power Pool, the regional network to which Evergy belongs. The grid upgrades needed to accommodate all this new energy could prove costly, estimated at $62 million. But the feasibility study noted that an interconnection study by SPP and Evergy would be needed to determine this.
The feasibility study recommends that managers adopt a phased approach. In a first phase, he suggests building a 35 megawatt array of more than 96,000 panels near the southern end of the site. It would take between $9 million and $15 million to upgrade the network to accommodate all that power.
Platt said the plan could include building community-scale solar panels small enough to not trigger studies by utility regulators while gaining approval for the larger farm.
“We want to balance the two,” Platt said. “We want to make a large production facility but also start production as soon as possible.”
The feasibility study did not define a specific timetable, but the regulatory and permitting processes could take several years.
Platt said the city could inaugurate these small, community-scale solar installations by the end of next year.
Officials have not agreed on a financing plan for the solar farm, Platt said.
“The ultimate goal for us as a city is that we spend little or no taxpayer dollars to build this facility and that the facility pays for itself using the energy generated from the site,” Platt said. “We hope it won’t increase energy prices either.”
This story originally appeared on the Missouri Independent.