A new 30-acre solar farm in Nashville, Arkansas, will soon help power the University of Arkansas campus at Fayetteville, thanks to a 25-year solar service agreement with Entegrity Energy Partners of Little Rock, officials said.
The power from the 4-megawatt array, to be built by Entegrity on grounds it owns and is using for several solar projects, will offset about 6.3% of the Fayetteville campus’ electricity use and will save the university $150,000 in its first year of operation.
"It’s a pretty good size, and it takes advantage of offsetting some of their higher energy users from a rate standpoint," said Chris Ladner, a principal partner in Entegrity.
The university’s board of trustees on Thursday authorized the solar agreement, shaped over the past couple of years, in which Entegrity will build, own and operate the solar array while providing the power it creates to the university at set rates, according to UA System President Donald Bobbitt, who favored the deal in a letter to trustees.
‘Positive Cash Flow’
"Based on reasonably projected utility rate increases, the [agreement] is expected to maintain positive cash flow each year over the life of the agreement," Bobbitt's letter said.
John Coleman, the regional director who heads Entegrity’s Fayetteville office, said he had worked closely on the solar project with Scott Turley, the university's associate vice chancellor for facilities, who told the trustees the array will provide "average discounted electricity over the 25 years at about 2.6 cents [per kilowatt hour], "a good rate to have locked in."
"It’s a big campus," Coleman said, "and we were already involved in a campus-wide efficiency program there involving LED lighting and HVAC systems. All told, between the efficiency work and the solar project, the university will be saving about $1.4 million a year."
The array in Nashville will be interconnected with SWEPCO, the Shreveport electric utility and American Electric Power subsidiary that has about 123,000 customers in western Arkansas, Coleman said. The project still has to go through a review by the Arkansas Public Service Commission, and varying estimates of that process mean that a completion date is uncertain, he added. Entegrity crews, rather than a contractor, will put up the array.
SWEPCO now provides about 74 megawatt-hours of the university’s power load, while a campus gas turbine generates 41 megawatt hours. Another 23 megawatt-hours are provided from other sources, Turley told the trustees without offering more detail.
A Solid Niche
"We have always had a lot of higher education work at Entegrity," Coleman told Arkansas Business. "We have two other solar projects with the university now, and two others are before the board of trustees. There are other solar opportunities there."
The board approved an energy use audit and approved Entegrity for its efficiency initiative in 2020. The energy savings performance contract guarantees that avoided costs for energy, along with operations and maintenance savings, "will meet or exceed the costs of the improvements" and their financing.
The 2019 Arkansas Solar Access law, which authorized third-party ownership of solar arrays, cleared the way for the deal. But the university has the option to pull out if potential grid access charges affect costs too greatly.
The trustees approved a similar solar contract in 2020 for the UA System’s Division of Agriculture.
Board member Ed Fryar, co-founder of Ozark Mountain Poultry in Rogers and a former UA agriculture professor, suggested studying the practicality of having each of the system’s individual campuses and units pursue renewable energy options. The board agreed, and Ladner, the Entegrity partner back in Little Rock, sees "a wide array of opportunities for the university, with solar definitely one of them."
Between batteries, load management and solar power, "the university has a lot of opportunities to really optimize their position on the utility side," Ladner said. "These are all steps forward to a different-looking future in energy. But the universities do a great job of making good decisions at the right time, and they’ve always been very intentional in their approach."