WILSON LAKE — The Kansas City District, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers completed several solar field projects that greatly contribute to the sustainability and energy efficiency initiatives at the Wilson Lake Project that help to protect, sustain, and improve the natural and man-made environment completed over the last two years.
The district strives to emulate USACE’s National Sustainability Plan that serves as the roadmap to mitigate climate change, reduce waste, decrease costs, and enhance resilience of our infrastructure and operations. Focus areas include facility energy efficiency; renewable energy; water efficiency; transportation/fleet management (with the goal to increase electric vehicles); sustainable acquisition/procurement; and greenhouse gas emission reductions in support of reducing the impacts of climate change.
The Wilson Lake Project is in a remote area of Kansas in Russell and Lincoln counties surrounded by a vast area of farmland creating many competing interests for electricity resources. Increased demand for energy during the peak months in the summer drives up the cost of each kilowatt hour used by all the energy users including USACE parks.
High energy costs spurred the team at the project to investigate other energy options and alternatives that would help mitigate the rising costs of operations at the project. The team worked with the Northwestern Division and created the Divisions first pilot solar photovoltaic – or PV - project.
“The overall message to division was that despite our overwhelming increase in campground popularity, we simply could not afford to meet the increased public demand in electric service at these costs,” said Nolan Fisher, Wilson Lake Park Manager. “A key contributing factor is a national trend with RVs getting larger by the year with multiple air conditioners, heaters, and indoor and outdoor kitchens.”
Solar PV projects, also known as a solar array, consist of a large collection of photovoltaic solar panels that absorb energy from a reliable clean energy source, in this case the sun, and convert it into electricity that is then sent to the power grid for distribution and consumption.
“The projects at Wilson Lake were built using standard or traditional ground mounts that use pilings to hold up a racking table that support the solar panels on rails,” said Mark Horst, owner and commercial projects manager of King Solar. “Other methods are sometimes used to anchor into the ground based on various ground conditions. Standard ground mount systems typically hold the solar array in a fixed position, although options for seasonal or daily adjustment are gaining popularity. The standard ground-mount system is the easiest and most cost-effective solution for a ground install and also the most common.”
The solar array projects at Wilson Lake use an electricity billing instrument called net metering also known as net energy metering that allows those who produce solar energy to send excess energy back to the utility company for full retail credit, instead of having to consume all the energy when it’s generated. Not all utility companies offer net metering, but its availability allows the project site to effectively bank energy with the utility for later use.
A device known as an inverter is used with solar arrays to convert the energy that is generated (Direct Current) to usable electricity for a home (Alternating Current). Several different styles of inverters including string inverters, micro inverters, and optimized inverters can be used. Each model has costs and benefits such as granular monitoring, shade tolerance and rapid shutdown which is a safety requirement on rooftop projects.
“The bottom line is that the solar PV project is an investment in our continued advocacy for public recreation,” Fisher said. “The solar panel production is offsetting our electric costs by 20% annually. Electricity costs were approaching 40% of our annual recreation budget. This energy efficient initiative has proven to be a huge success and continues to offset high energy costs here at the project.”