Drivers heading south out of Augusta have noticed a huge solar array under construction, and the Electric Cooperatives of Arkansas report that the one-square-mile project is within budget and “progressing as planned” to start producing power in July.
It’s the cooperatives’ biggest solar project, a 122-megawatt station mentioned last month to lawmakers by Arkansas Electric Cooperative Corp. CEO Buddy Hasten.
The plant, adjacent to the de-commissioned Carl Bailey Generation Station just east of the White River in south Augusta, will be owned by AECC and was strategically sited to take advantage of existing infrastructure.
Steve Metcalf, AECC’s vice president for power production and delivery, told Arkansas Business the project will provide affordable, non-fossil-based power generation for AECC’s member cooperatives.
The first block of the array is expected to be completed in July.
“By locating the project adjacent to AECC’s Bailey Generating Station, which ceased operation in 2020, AECC was able to reuse the facility interconnection to the electric grid, which lowered costs and expedited the approval process,” Metcalf said, adding that AECC will own and operate the facility. AECC is also designing and building facilities required to connect Woodruff County Solar, which has a footprint of about 553 acres, to an existing AECC substation. The total fenced area is 636 acres, about a square mile, and its 270 giant solar panels will be overseen by one or two employees, AECC predicts.
“As could be expected on a project of this size, there have been a number of challenges,” Metcalf said. “The most significant challenges so far have involved pandemic- and tariff-related solar panel supply disruptions.”
The project was engineered and is being built by DEPCOM Power, a leading national solar development company that was acquired in 2021 by Koch Engineered Solutions, a subsidiary of Koch Industries Inc. of Wichita, Kansas.
Construction began last May.
“AECC constantly evaluates and considers all forms of wholesale power generation in order to provide the 17 member cooperatives in Arkansas with reliable and affordable energy in a responsible manner,” spokesman Rob Roedel said.
Last year, Hasten said the project fits in with the cooperatives’ need for additional capacity, noting that Arkansas’ 600,000 cooperative members benefit from some of the lowest power costs in the United States.
“The intermittent energy produced by this facility will supplement our mission-critical baseload generation resources,” Hasten said.
A previous version of this story incorrectly named Koch Strategic Solutions as the Koch Industries subsidiary that owns DEPCOM Power.