In the years following the Civil War, settlers in Butler, MO, built the first public power plant west of the Mississippi, earning the town the nickname "The Electric City."
Now the town is living up to that legacy with another energy milestone - an 11,000 panel solar farm that generates 10 percent of the town's power.
The farm is the first utility-grade solar facility in the state, something that makes residents like Peggy Buhr proud.
"People don't often think of Bates County as being cutting edge," Buhr said. "But we are."
Buhr manages the Bates County History Museum and often tells visitors anecdotes of Butler's early years. She said when the town first installed a public grid, it became a tourist destination for surrounding towns, even Kansas City, because of the evening glow of the electric lights.
Now she hopes drivers along Interstate 49 experience the same feeling of awe when they see the solar panels.
"I think people are becoming more and more receptive of incorporating solar into their plans," Buhr said.
The facility is owned by MC Power Companies, a company that builds and installs commercial solar panels. Joel Gray, a vice president with the company, said the Butler project was the organization's largest so far.
"The utilities win by not having to invest in costly infrastructure," Gray explained. "The city of Butler gets the power it needs at a predictable cost."
Predictability has become an issue with Butler's power supply in recent years. The city's power plant can no longer meet the growing energy demands of the town. It runs on fossil fuels, which are becoming increasingly scarce. For that reason, according to Gray, the town needed supplemental power.
"In certain situations like this one, it makes complete sense," he said. "The cost of power has to be high enough to warrant new energy systems."
It began operating in early March and is already producing 80 percent of its possible output. Gray said Missouri weather can actually be very conducive to solar power since cool temperatures help the panels work more efficiently.
"It's not always related to a place you'd think of as a sunshine place," he explained. "But we can produce a lot of great energy right here in the Midwest."
Gray said rural areas like Butler hold massive potential for energy. He said he hopes the project will help other towns and power companies to realize the value of the sun's power.
"Technology will continue to advance and make solar power more and more applicable in different situations," he said.
Copyright 2014 KCTV (Meredith Corp.) All rights reserved.
1115 Mt. Auburn Road
Public File Contact: