Local leaders meet companies working to develop 2,000 acre solar farm at Lanes Prairie

By Laura Schiermeier, Staff Writer
Posted 10/13/21

VICHY — Since October of 2020, work has been done to develop an over 2,000 acre solar farm in Maries County. 

At a meeting last week at the terminal at the Rolla National Airport at …

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Local leaders meet companies working to develop 2,000 acre solar farm at Lanes Prairie

Posted

VICHY — Since October of 2020, work has been done to develop an over 2,000 acre solar farm in Maries County. 

At a meeting last week at the terminal at the Rolla National Airport at Vichy, representatives from two development companies working on the project sat down with local leaders to discuss the project of putting solar panels on the flat land of the county’s high prairie near Lanes Prairie. 

Jonathan Davis of Arkansas, Leasing Specialist for Allegiant Land Services & Consulting, Maeve McCloskey of Chicago, Analyst, Development for Invenergy, and Greg Vasilion of Chicago, Development Associate for Invenergy, recently met at the airport with Airport Manager Darrin Bacon, MRPC Executive Director Bonnie Prigge, Maries County Presiding Commissioner Victor Stratman, and Rolla Public Works Director Steve Hargus.

Davis said the southern part of the land lease for the solar farm is near the junction of Highway 28 and Highway Z on the east side of the county, also known as Lanes Prairie. When asked how long it will take to plan, develop and build the solar farm, Davis said about five years. Thus far the local landowners have been receptive to the terms of the lease, which is $800 per year per acre to lease the land with solar panels constructed on them. Davis said $800 is a good payment. However, to some farmers, it’s not about the money. The project is driven by landowner participation. 

McCloskey said with the development they are at 2,300 acres signed up and should bring another 400 acres into the project by mid-October. They prefer the acreage to be in the same area. She said 2,000 acres of a flat land area with solar panels will generate 200 megawatts of energy and 10 acres will generate one megawatt. The electricity the solar farm generates will ultimately be sold to Ameren. In one year the 200 megawatts generated will be enough electricity to power 65,000 homes for one year. They will try to optimize the land they lease and now are looking at building solar panels on 1,400 acres. There will be underdeveloped acres within the leases which pay at a different, lesser rate. There will be wires running underground and wires on steel poles above ground. McCloskey said they are excited about this project. The plan is for it to be in the development and construction stage in 2023 to 2024 and fully operational in 2025. 

She also expressed interest in leasing airport land, which currently in under and agriculture contract, saying, “It’s great land and we’d like to lease it.” Airport Manager Darin Bacon said there could be a glare or reflection problem with the solar panels and airplane pilots’ vision and he doesn’t want a tragic accident to reflect on the airport or on Invenergy. McCloskey said they would make sure it is safe, and for now, they are just talking. 

McCloskey, who is an industrial engineer, said there will be some underground structure such as insulation cables to connect the solar panels and then to a substation to overhead transmission lines. 

Commissioner Stratman asked about crossing county roads. There are concerns they might want to bury something down the middle of them. Davis said there are details they want to work out with the county, and will use the county’s policy. “We want to be a partner, not a problem,” he said. McCloskey said there will be underground bores, but generally they will work with the county on a use agreement.  

Bacon asked how far the solar farm will be from the main power line. Davis said about three and a half miles from the western edge. They will have terrain to deal with, but three and a half to four four miles away if they run a straight line. Most of the land leased is on the north side of Highway Z and is east of the power line. There are 300 to 400 acres to be under lease, which are located on the south side of Highway Z. Prigge said those will be the closest to the airport. A substation will be located on property along the transmission line, and will be final piece once the land is all grouped together.

They will have private agreements with the landowners on a 30-year lease with the possibility of an additional 25 years. McCloskey said they expect there will be changes in technology that may require changes; but the need for energy “will stick around.” 

Prigge said it is interesting to think about electricity for 65,000 homes being generated in a place where less than 9,000 people live. 

Bacon asked if the generated electricity will be stored in a battery. McCloskey said its new technology, the battery, which will be located next to the substation. The property where the substations are located will be purchased. 

Stratman asked about the transmission lines. The energy will be taken by overhead lines to an Ameren 345 KV line located along Highway Z. 

McCloskey was asked why they chose Maries County to locate this solar farm. She said because Ameren’s line is nearby, there is a need, the area’s solar resource is good, the topography, and a way to plug into the grid. 

Davis said each project has its own challenges. Some have flooding, tornadoes, as each area is unique. The solar panels are set on steel pilings. Bacon said here the soil is good, but they hit rock quickly. Prigge said there is no perfect place. McCloskey said the easy spots are taken with the industry’s growth. 

The need for electricity is not going away and technology will change. 

Davis said Invenergy acquires, constructs, and purchases in the queue. McCloskey said to plug into the grid, they will punch into the queue, which is like a ticket. Ameren will run studies for Invenergy for plugging into the grid to ensure Ameren can handle the 200 megawatt injection. All of this takes money. She said Invenergy is different than land operation groups because it has the ability to enter the queue and kick-off these studies. The studies will be on-going. The engineering studies will begin soon. 

Davis said they’ve been approaching landowners since October 2020. “There is substantial data already,” he told the group. 

McCloskey said Invenergy is a privately held company. There are tax credits available. Davis said, “Solar is good and it is here to stay.” 

Bacon asked about the logistics of building a solar farm. McCloskey said there will be several hundred people employed for construction with company people supervising, but the local people will be needed. It’s much better to use local people because they know the resources of the area. “All the restaurants will be covered up with business for a year,” Davis said. It will be a boom town for about 18 months. Once it is built, only two to three people will be needed to maintain the solar farm. 

Prigge said accommodation may be an issue. Davis said they will figure it out as they can drive to Rolla, Salem, and restaurants can do deliveries. 

Davis said the land is mostly in place and they are about six months ahead of the game now. Once they are in this community, they hope for a long-term partnership, that the people will want them here. In the spring there will be an uptick in activity with core sampling, preliminary surveying, and full title searches. Construction will kick-off in 2024 after all the surveying is done, and sign-off from landowners, county right-of-ways, gas lines. There are a lot of pieces to the project. 

To bring power to the Ameren line, they will use 60 foot steel poles with a minimum height of 20 feet, which would be the bottom of the line’s swag. Davis said they will work with the farmers. They don’t anticipate any interference with the airport but will do arc studies. 

Davis said with the solar farm, it pays well, but something comes with that. The leased land remains the landowner’s property, but they can’t run cows on it. They are looking into grazing sheep.They want to work with the landowners and have talked about cover crops such as strawberries. They have 30 projects going on in Missouri and are always looking for future projects. Most of the project area will be fenced. 

Davis said Allegiant works in the United States, Europe, South American and Canada. 

For this solar farm, they need a minimum of 1,600 buildable acres and currently have 2,400 under lease. Not all of the acres are buildable as they are in timber. They try not to remove any more timber than they need to except to do the transmission lines. The bulk of acreage is coming together quickly as they have 2,800 acres now. 

The $800 per acre per year is what is paid for the land with solar panels on it. They can do 10 acres, 20 acres and if they don’t develop it, the landowner gets development payments, which is $20 an acre per year. They can still farm it. If it is put into development, then the landowner will get the payments. Outside of it there is a $40 per acre a year under-development fee. The lease goes with the land. 

When asked what the down size is with this project, Davis said not enough labor. The company has engineers and supervisors but the rest of the workers will come from the local labor force.

 

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