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KU installs solar power at Burgin

The Harrodsburg Herald of Harrodsburg, Kentucky

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$36 Million Project Will Provide Power to 1,500 Homes

The biggest solar power facility in Kentucky is coming to Mercer County.

In November, Kentucky Utilities and Louisville Gas and Electric (KU) will begin installing 45,000 solar panels on a 52-acre plot at the E.W. Brown Generating Station in Burgin. KU officials estimate the panels will produce 10-megawatts of electricity, enough to provide energy to 1,500 homes a month.

"It's more than a pilot project," said KU spokesperson Cliff Feltham. "It is a project that will be generating electricity into our system. We've been coal-powered electricity for more than 100 years but things are changing."

Feltham said the solar facility should begin serving customers in the late spring.

Coal is still king in Kentucky. The commonwealth relies on coal to generate a greater share of its electricity than any state except West Virginia.

According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration (IEA), 90 percent of the electricity consumed in Kentucky comes from coal burning plants. However, since 2012, nearly 3,000 megawatts of coal-fired generating capacity has been retired. The largest power plant in Kentucky by capacity, the 2,550-mega-watt coal-fired Paradise Plant, owned by the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA), plans to shutdown two generating units with a corn-bined capacity of more than 1,400 megawatts and replace them with a natural gas-fired power plant by 2017.

Hydroelectric power, the state's largest source of renewable energy, accounts for only 3 percent of energy generated. KU officials say while solar energy is cleaner than energy produced by coal or water, water is ten times more effective at producing energy than solar panels.

The commonwealth's first utility-scale solar photovoltaic power generating facility, the 2-megawatt Bowling Green Solar Farm, went online in 2011. The farm has 7,000 solar panels generating electricity for the TVA.

While there are no current plans to expand the proposed facility beyond Mercer County, Feltham says solar energy could one day overtake coal-fired energy.

"At this point we're not convinced that that's going to happen but we do want to experiment with it and find out if it really will work," Feltham said.

The Burgin facility was approved by the Kentucky Public Service Commission in December 2014. It's expected to cost less than $36 million.

Amec Foster Wheeler, an engineering firm with experience in utility-scale solar projects, won the bid to build the facility. A crew of 75 construction workers will install 45,000 solar panels on a fixed-tilt rack system. The panels will be positioned to collect the maximum amount of available sunlight. Once completed, the facility is projected to produce its full potential approximately 400 hours annually (4.5 percent of the year). Considering all available hours of sunlight, the panels are projected to produce 19,000 megawatt hours of energy.

"Maintaining a diverse generation portfolio, relying upon both intermittent renewable and baseload fossil-fueled energy sources, has been part of our company's fabric for almost 100 years," said KU Chief Operating Officer Paul W. Thompson. "Our new solar facility will allow us to learn more about this technology. From a pragmatic standpoint, we'll learn how commercial-scale solar energy is impacted by factors such as cloud cover and how it integrates with our existing generating units."

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Original Publication Date: October 22, 2015

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