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Solar Splash in Kansas

Solar power is blooming in California, the Southwest, New Jersey and other regions that have aggressively courted such investments.

Rob Federighi of Socore Energy at IKEA's newly opened Kansas store.

By Martin Rosenberg

Solar power is blooming in California, the Southwest, New Jersey and other regions that have aggressively courted such investments.

Now sun power is ready to flower in the Sunflower state, in the middle of America.

Rob Federighi, Socore Energy vice president of business development, said, “We really like these markets that are still untapped.” He added, “Everybody and their brother are in California and Massachusetts.” That is because even in states like Kansas, solar power is fast approaching parity with other sources of electricity flowing over the grid, he said.

For years, Midwest utility execs and state regulators have said that solar will not take root in the state because conventional power is relatively abundant and cheap and consumers are not enthralled by renewables.

But IKEA, intent on embracing green technology, is convinced solar is good business, even in Kansas.

Local commercial and industrial customers in Kansas City are taking note.

Federighi, with tousled hair and the zeal of a high-tech entrepreneur, exemplifies Socore’s motto - be “Humble, Hungry, Smart.”

I recently met with him in the gleaming cafeteria of a newly opened IKEA store along Interstate-35 in the Kansas side of the Kansas City metropolitan area. He was visiting the facility in advance of the installation of a 92,000-square-foot solar array on the store, to be completed in the spring. It will generate more than 1.3 million kilowatt-hours of power annually.

Socore Energy, headquartered in Chicago, is now a subsidiary of Edison International, a California utility. When it was launched in 2008, co-founder Pete Kadens traveled the country for six months, talking to energy buyers, Federighi said. Over the years Socore has worked with Walgreens – including its zero-energy use store in Illinois, Kohl’s, FedEx and others in 15 states. Socore’s appeal is in offering fixed power prices for 20-25 years, Federighi said.

IKEA has committed to invest $1.8 billion globally in renewable energy, and that included solar on 90 percent of its U.S. locations. The Swedish company aims to be energy independent by 2020.

Socore owns the majority of systems that it installs, with roughly three-quarters of the customers preferring third party ownership of the solar assets, Federighi said.

But not IKEA.

Joseph Roth, IKEA U.S. Expansion & Property public affairs manager, said, “If someone is going to make money off of our rooftop solar it’s going to be us,” he said.

While being the first in an area to make a substantial investment in solar “can definitely be challenging,” Roth said, “We wouldn’t be doing it if there wasn’t some kind of return on investment.”

Utility scale solar and residential solar installations in recent years have outpaced commercial, industrial and government investment in the technology, according to the Solar Electric Power Association. That may be changing – and that is big news.

"With the dramatic decline in the price of photovoltaic modules, we're seeing solar becoming cost-effective in regions of the country far removed from the sunny Southwest," says Julia Hamm, association president.

"Just a few years ago, the purchase of renewable energy by a big business like Ikea would have been more likely a symbolic investment in sustainability. Now that investment is an economic one.”

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