The Frankfort Plant Board provided a “solar update” to the community at its regular meeting Tuesday.
Solar power has been a source of significant discussion, as the municipal utility recently paid a consultant $22,500 to evaluate a proposal for the City of Frankfort, Franklin County, Frankfort Independent Schools and Franklin County Schools to buy their electricity from a 20 megawatt (MW) 150-acre solar farm.
Kansas City-based Burns & McDonnell, at FPB’s meeting last month, came down hard on the solar proposal by Andy McDonald and former FPB Vice Chair Walt Baldwin made under McDonald’s Apogee Energy & Climate Transitions banner.
On Tuesday, FPB staff emphasized the utility's shift away from coal and further investment in renewable energy that could be on the table in the near future.
FPB Chief Operating Officer Vent Foster told the board that once Kentucky Municipal Energy Agency (KYMEA) begins its 54 MW contract with the Ashwood Solar Plant in Western Kentucky in late 2022 that the plant board’s energy portfolio will be 14% renewables and 31% coal.
Those percentages will be a drastic shift from FPB’s pre-2019 portfolio, which was more than 90% coal.
“Everybody would love to say, ‘I'm 100% renewable today,’ Foster said. “Unfortunately, with the physical and fiscal constraints of renewables, that's just not possible today. But we are absolutely working toward that.”
Foster and General Manager Gary Zheng also explained that net metering, a system that credits solar energy producers for electricity they add to the grid, is currently capped by the FPB at 1% of peak demand.
In response to a question from Director Stephen Mason, Foster explained that the cap is in place due to financial concerns about “power swings” that too much net metering would create in FPB’s system.
“The 1% is because you start to have (financial) impacts,” Foster said. “If you get too much solar without storage, it will start to create a lot of power swings in your system.”
Foster said that about 300 kW of energy is currently net metered, and under the 1% cap that figure could rise to 1300 kW, or 1.3 mW.
Zheng said that implementation of Apogee’s 20 MW proposal would put the FPB at about 15 times that threshold.
In his presentation, Foster said that FPB intends to keep pursuing renewable energy but that options have to meet three “important considerations”:
They must be implemented in a reasonable and intelligent method that maintains system reliability.
They must be implemented in a manner where the benefits are fair and equitable to all ratepayers regardless of their economic means.
They must maintain reasonable electric utility rates for all ratepayers.
Director Kathryn Dutton-Mitchell expressed hope for increased renewables by the FPB moving forward, adding that she’d like to see a resolution drafted that lays out what the FPB’s renewable energy goals are, particularly for KYMEA. FPB is an "all-requirements" member of KYMEA, a cooperative of municipal utilities.
“I believe there is hopefully some consensus about us truly wanting to improve our renewable portfolio,” Dutton-Mitchell said. “It might be something important for us to consider a resolution which would speak mostly to KYMEA about what our expectations moving forward are, whether it be very specific goals or some criteria for improving even more.
“I think we should be proud about the improvements, but usually if you set goals, then you know how to work toward them.”