Conway Corp. Takes Solar Plunge With 135-MW Array

Conway Corp. Takes Solar Plunge With 135-MW Array
Conway Corp. CEO Bret Carroll (Karen E. Segrave)

Conway Corporation, one of the state’s oldest municipal electric utilities, is making its first foray into utility-scale sun generation through an agreement to purchase electricity from a 135-megawatt solar array set for a March groundbreaking in White County.

The project, one of 10 around the country being built under a $533 million financing package by Lightsource bp of San Francisco, will be constructed in Happy, southeast of Searcy, employing about 200 construction workers through completion in mid-2023. The energy produced will be enough to power about 21,000 homes.

Lightsource bp will own and operate the project, known as Conway Solar at Happy, and sell the energy under a long-term power purchase agreement to Conway Corp., which serves city residents with electricity, internet, cable television, water and wastewater services.

“Our mission is to provide safe, affordable, reliable, innovative and environmentally sound service to our customers,” Conway Corp. CEO Bret Carroll said in a news release issued Wednesday. “This solar project checks all the boxes … and will have lasting impact on the community.”

Part of the power will give Conway Corp. a cushion when two power plants it part-owns, Entergy's 40-year-old facilities in Newark and Redfield, stop burning coal as agreed in 2028 and 2030, Carroll told Arkansas Business in a telephone interview. "It's a good way of hedging our bets on power supply and power supply costs." The utility began seeking requests for proposals from qualified solar providers in 2019, Carroll said. No one element secured the job for Lightsource bp, Carroll said, but the array's placement about 55 miles from Conway, as well as favorable terms in the 20-year power purchase agreement, were key, said Carroll. The power will offset about 25% of the municipal utility's power load.

The project should help ease the city’s carbon footprint by abating the emissions of about 35,000 fuel-burning cars per year, the release said. Conway, a city of 66,000, has had a municipal utility since 1929. “We look forward to working with Lightsource bp to get the project under construction and delivering service.”

Gibson Technical Services of Canton, Georgia, a subsidiary of Orbital Energy Group of Houston, will be the contractor for the photovoltaic solar plant, handling engineering, procurement and construction.

Conway Solar is one of the largest projects in a 480-megawatt portfolio of projects financed under one package with debt provided by the following lead arranger companies, with the balance of equity requirements invested and supported by Lightsource bp, which is a 50-50 venture with bp, once known as British Petroleum:

  • HSBC Bank USA, National Association (HSBC Bank USA, N.A.), part of HSBC Group, one of the world's largest banking and financial services organizations. HSBC also acted as a coordinating lead arranger.
  • ING CapitalLLC (ING), a financial services firm offering wholesale financial lending products and advice to clients. ING Capital LLC is an indirect U.S. subsidiary of ING Bank NV, part of ING Group NV, a global financial institution. ING also acted as the project’s green loan coordinator.
  • Intesa Sanpaolo S.p.A., New York Branch (Intesa Sanpaolo), one of the top banking groups in Europe, serving corporate customers across 25 countries worldwide. It also acted as a coordinating lead arranger.
  • NatWest, a project financing lender in Europe and long-standing partner of Lightsource bp globally. In October 2021 NatWest Group announced an additional £100 billion for Climate and Sustainable Funding and Financing by the end of 2025.
  • Societe Generale, one of the leading European financial services groups.
  • Standard Chartered Bank, an international banking group with a presence in 59 of the world's most dynamic markets. Its Americas franchise provides financial products and services to multinational corporations.

In the past two years, the Lightsource bp team has raised over $2.3 billion in financing for its projects in 10 states. “Beyond improving the health and energy security of communities across America, large-scale solar projects help strengthen local economies,” said Jim O’Neill, vice chairman and CEO of Orbital Energy Group. “As the owner and operator of the Conway solar farm at Happy, we look forward to bringing economic benefits to the region, along with fostering long-term community partnerships."

The Conway Solar at Happy project website is already up.