Scenic Hill Solar of North Little Rock and four Ouachita County entities demonstrated the potential of public-private partnership in solar energy projects Thursday with a groundbreaking ceremony for four sun arrays to be built mostly before the end of the year.
Ouachita County, the city of Camden, Ouachita County Medical Center and Camden Water Utilities, which formed a partnership in June 2019 to explore solar possibilities, will eventually receive more than 5 million kilowatt-hours a year of clean, renewable power. The new power plants will make Camden and Ouachita County the first city and county combination in Arkansas to use 100 percent solar electricity for all their governmental operations.
Scenic Hill CEO Bill Halter, the former Arkansas lieutenant governor, told Arkansas Business on Thursday that the combined project cost will be more than $6 million, and that three of the four plants will be completed before Dec. 31. The final array is expected to be finished in the first quarter of 2021.
Public-private partnerships were authorized in Arkansas by the Legislature’s Partnership for Public Facilities and Infrastructure Act of 2017, with a goal of expediting the development of public projects by combinations of public and private entities.
“On that score this is one of the more sophisticated projects around, in the sense that you’ve got four organizations involved with Scenic Hill Development,” Halter said. “It’s a comprehensive approach, and we’re very excited to be involved.”
He said the project was one of nine that Scenic Hill is working to complete by the end of the year, when investment tax benefits decline from 26 percent of project costs to 22 percent.
The Camden dirt-turning ceremony took place Thursday morning at the Ouachita County Detention Center, with representatives from all the parties praising the project as “forward-thinking” and “innovative.”
County Judge Robert McAdoo said county citizens can look forward to electricity savings and to “showcasing our county” for its foresight. Camden Mayor Julian Lott, whose words were practically echoed by Water Utilities General Manager David Richardson, noted that the project will be “saving money for our citizens while positively impacting the environment.” Peggy Abbott, CEO of Ouachita County Medical Center, said in a statement that one of her longtime goals has been “to utilize renewable energy for the hospital,” adding that she’s “delighted to see progress on the construction of this project.”
Scenic Hill will build, own and operate the solar power plants on parcels leased from Ouachita County and on land purchased by Scenic Hill Solar. Each of the four organizations will purchase electricity under four 20-year Energy Services Agreements (ESA).
In total, the project’s 15,000 solar modules will produce 3.467 MW DC of solar power, enough to satisfy 100 percent of electricity used in all governmental operations for both the City of Camden and Ouachita County. Camden has a population of about 11,600, nearly half of the county’s population of 24,000.