The day after Earth Day was warm and mild in Fulton County as Today's Power Inc. and North Arkansas Electric Cooperative Inc. saluted a solar future Tuesday by dedicating the cooperative's first solar generation station in its 80-year history.
The 1-megawatt array — 4,009 solar panels on an eight-acre parcel along U.S. Highway 62 near Salem — was one of dozens built by Today's Power, the Little Rock company owned by Arkansas Electric Cooperatives Inc.
NAEC, which serves nearly 37,000 homes, companies and other accounts in seven counties, is based in Salem and has offices in Ash Flat and Mountain Home. CEO Mel Coleman, a longtime leader in cooperative energy and former president of the National Rural Electric Cooperatives Association, spoke on the benefits of renewable power in a diverse mix of energy sources, but also on the bottom line.
"Our goal is to provide our members with reliable, affordable power," he said in a news release. "New technologies have made solar generation a viable way to help us accomplish that."
The project's design will let NAEC reap a steady stream of priced energy over 25 years from a clean and sustainable source.
TPI President Michael Henderson praised the co-op's foresight.
"The wisdom and vision shown by North Arkansas' board of directors and management team will provide clean and renewable energy for members for decades to come," Henderson said.
To complement the Earth Week theme, Qual Forever, a group dedicated to wildlife habitat conservation trumped its plan to provide an ideal spot for butterflies, bees and other beneficial insects. Other beneficiaries will be the area's cottontail rabbits, bobwhite quail and grassland songbirds, the release said. Wildflowers will be sown in the fall, and educational tours are planned for the array and surrounding site.
"We want to promote STEM-based education and careers to our students," Coleman said. "We already have hosted three chemistry classes at the solar array and look forward to many more."