As solar and renewable energy use surges and and utilities jump in with their own systems, the state's largest electric utility, Entergy Arkansas, is offering customers a way to run their homes and businesses with sun power.
A new solar tariff, or rate plan, will let consumers subscribe to blocks of power from Stuttgart Solar, the big 81-megawatt array by NextEra Energy Resources of Florida that Entergy partners in through a power-purchase agreement, and electricity that will flow from a similar 100-MW system that will begin operation next year, Chicot Solar in Lake Village.
Under the new tariff, approved by the Arkansas Public Service Commission, Entergy Arkansas will devote up to half the energy from both solar plants for customers to buy in blocks of power.
"As the state's largest solar provider, we want to make all the benefits of utility-scale solar power available to our customers who have particular energy and sustainability goals," Kurt Castleberry, the utility's director of resource planning, said in a statement. "We know there are business and industrial customers who have renewable energy requirements or goals. This is a cost-effective way for them to meet those without the need for upfront capital investment," as in the cost of installing private solar arrays.
Castleberry said some residential customers will also be eager to shrink their carbon footprint. One-year subscriptions to the solar energy will be available first come, first served, and residential customers can subscribe in 1-kilowatt blocks, with a maximum of 5 kilowatts of capacity per customer. "The subscription increments for small general service customers will be 5-kW blocks and for large general service customers will be 100-kW blocks," according to a company release.
Laura Landreux, president and CEO of Entergy Arkansas, called the solar tariff just a beginning. "The Chicot Solar facility will come online later this year. The Searcy Solar facility will come online in two years, pending commission approval," she said, referring to a 100-megawatt solar energy facility in White County. The Searcy Solar facility "is a BOT (Build, Own, Transfer) with NextEra," said Entergy communications specialist Kerri Jackson Case. "They will build it, but when it comes online, it will transfer ownership to us." That project is expected to be the largest utility-owned solar facility in the state and the first to feature a battery for storing solar power, officials told Arkansas Business.
"We have more renewable projects under consideration. All of this means that we will have more options for customers and can be more flexible as an energy partner. We're looking forward to all that is coming," Landreux said.
Net-metering customers, who already have renewable energy systems, are not eligible to participate in the tariff. Participating customers will get certification that Renewable Energy Credits for the power they consume will be retired on the customer's behalf.
"For example: The Stuttgart Solar Facility has the capability of producing 81 MW of electricity, but there are cloudy days and other limiting factors to its actual output," the Entergy release said. "If a customer subscribed to what amounted to 5 percent of the facility, then that customer would receive certification that RECs were retired for five percent of the actual production from the facility. Customers will receive the MISO market revenues for that proportionate share, which will net against the cost of the blocks the customers purchase."
Entergy Arkansas serves about 700,000 electric meters in 63 counties across the state. It urges customers interested in the solar blocks to contact Entergy's business center at (800) 766-1648 or visit entergyarkansas.com/solaroption.
Customers who choose solar will still receive a bill, with the solar credit or charge showed on a separate line, varying dependent on calculations of monthlet energy market prices through MISO, the Midcontinent Independent System Operator, the electric grid manager that has its South Operations Center in Little Rock.
"Our customers have new and expanding expectations of what they want from their utility," Castleberry said. "We are modernizing our grid along with the services we offer so we can meet those expectations."