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$327M Driver Solar Farm Going In Alongside Big River Steel’s New Mill

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Big River Steel’s new $3 billion mill going up in Osceola will have big electricity needs, and Entergy Arkansas is planning to help meet them with a $327 million solar generation field on 2,100 acres nearby.

Daniel Brown

The project, aptly named Driver Solar, will drive up to 40% of operations of the new steel plant, about 230 megawatts of Big River II’s 550-megawatt demand, according to Daniel Brown, Big River’s chief operating officer.

Lightsource BP, a subsidiary of BP, developed and acquired permits and financing for the project, which will use about 650,000 solar panels made by First Solar of Tempe, Arizona, and advanced solar trackers from Array Technologies of Albuquerque, New Mexico, according to Mary Grikas of Lightsource BP.

“They started construction on the solar field about three months ago, starting with the infrastructure,” said Jim Bell, vice president for construction at United States Steel Corp. of Pittsburgh, owner of Big River Steel. “It’s about a year-and-a-half build, peaking out at about 125 employees.”

Jim Bell

Moss & Associates of Fort Lauderdale, Florida, is the general contractor. “Moss has been building these things for a while, from Maine to Hawaii, they told me yesterday,” Bell said.

Grikas, Lightsource BP’s vice president and head of marketing and communications, told Arkansas Business that when construction is completed next year, Entergy Arkansas will assume facility ownership and operate the project.

“Entergy Arkansas will take full ownership and operations of the facility by the end of 2024, under a build-transfer agreement with Lightsource BP,” Grikas said.

While some recent construction projects have been held up by snags in equipment procurement, “we didn’t experience any supply chain issues,” Grikas said. “Lightsource BP has multiyear supply agreements with key manufacturers, and we do strive to support those that are U.S.-based.”

Construction began in April with the installation of a main access road and work on a collector substation. “All civil [engineering] activities in the collector substation are complete and equipment pad foundations are underway,” Grikas said. Structural steel work on the collector substation should start in October, a control building will be erected, and the main power transformers will be delivered in late January 2024, she said.

The solar plant’s roadway network is now being built, and DC cables and piles are being installed, she said. “Solar panels are mounted on racking that sits on posts — called piles. These piles take up less than 10% of the land, leaving 90% of the ground under a solar farm as vegetation. Under the panels, in the rows and all the buffer areas, we plant site-specific grasses and vegetation,” Grikas said.

The racking holding the panels follows the sun during the day to maximize power generation. “As the panels very slowly rotate east to west during the day, their height ranges from 4 feet to 10 feet.”

Driver Solar will be the largest solar farm in Entergy Arkansas’ portfolio and the largest, for now, in the state, generating enough electricity to power more than 50,000 homes.

Laura Landreaux, president and CEO of Entergy Arkansas, said Driver Solar is the result of hard work and a strong partnership between Lightsource BP and Entergy.

“Driver Solar plays a big role in providing savings to all customers and supporting businesses like U.S. Steel as they continue to advance their own clean energy future. These partnerships are helping to drive incredible growth in our state and will benefit our communities for decades to come.”

Brown said that the solar power will be used throughout Big River II, including the production of what the company calls verdeX steel, “produced with fewer emissions and with up to 90% recycled material. U.S. Steel is pleased to collaborate with partners in Mississippi County to find sustainable solutions that are good for people and planet.”

Financing for the solar project was provided by largely foreign lenders: HSBC Bank USA, BNP Paribas, Societe Generale and Sumitomo Mitsui Banking Corp.

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