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A new Westar Energy solar project that broke ground on Tuesday partners the energy company with Baldwin City, and Westar hopes to see more such collaborations.

Baldwin City and Westar Energy broke ground on a 1-megawatt solar energy project that along with other renewable resources, such as wind and hydro, will ultimately generate about one-third of the city’s electricity.

“It is the first community solar project that we have built for a city,” said Westar spokeswoman Gina Penzig. “We have a community solar project in south Hutchinson that is a subscription product available for customers. We contracted with another company to build it.”

This project will be constructed by Westar on city property adjacent to the city’s public utility building. Baldwin City will purchase the energy from the plant for 30 years at a price of 5.6 cents per megawatt hour, the city’s website said. 

The plant is expected to be operational by summer.

“I am excited that we were able to form a partnership with Westar Energy to further enhance our portfolio of sustainable energy offered to our citizens. While this increases our sustainable energy, it also helps control our expenses on our purchased energy for as long as this solar power is producing,” Mayor Casey Simoneau said in a news release.

Along with providing energy for the town, the project will be used for field study for science and business students from Baker University. Students may use the project to learn about energy management, building business cases and managing request for proposal processes. Science-related lessons will include ecology, assessing the soil and designing the site to provide habitat for endangered Monarch butterflies.

Partnering with municipalities and cooperatives offers Westar an opportunity for business growth, Penzig said.

Such projects can offer communities the ability to lock in a long-term price and reach sustainable energy goals, she said.

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