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Camden, Danville, Jonesboro Projects Mark Statewide Surge in Solar Power

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As Today’s Power Inc. of Little Rock and Ouachita Electric Cooperative Corp. dedicated a pioneering solar power plant at Southern Arkansas University Tech in Camden, Scenic Hill Solar announced Thursday the completion of the largest sun array in Yell County.

Gov. Asa Hutchinson spoke at SAU Tech’s “flip the switch” ceremony for a 1-megawatt photovoltaic array on campus, held in conjunction with the 80th annual meeting of OECC, the not-for-profit distribution cooperative headquartered in Camden.

It is the first project completed under Act 464, the law opening greater solar possibilities to government organizations, nonprofits and schools by letting them make deals to buy energy from third-party owners of solar facilities.

OECC Chief Executive Officer Mark Cayce supported the bill in testimony before the state Legislature, citing SAU Tech’s plans as an example. “SAU Tech was looking for ways to avoid raising tuition and fees, and savings on the electric bill was something they could get from solar.”

Cayce told Arkansas Business that solar power helps OECC’s bottom line by reducing its peak power load, when demand drives power costs highest. “Savings on peak load lets us lower the overall cost of power for our members,” said Cayce, who is also chairman of the board of Today’s Power, the wholly owned subsidiary of Arkansas Electric Cooperatives Inc., which has now added campus solar to its roster of projects for electric cooperatives and private companies.

“It’s definitely a trend,” Cayce said in a sentiment seconded by Adam Ness, marketing manager for Entegrity Partners, the Little Rock efficiency and solar company that made the news last week for its net-zero headquarters on East Sixth Street. “With the new solar laws, [the trend] is without a doubt public entities embracing solar projects these days,” Ness said. “Public entities are ideal candidates for solar service agreements; we know they will still be there for the life of the entire project, and now, the financial incentives can be captured.”

Potential solar customers often ask what’s the catch, Ness said. “But it’s really a no-brainer for public entities, and win-win situations for everybody.”

In Yell County, Scenic Hill Solar of North Little Rock toasted the completion of a 360-kilowatt solar plant for phone and internet provider Arkwest Communications of Danville. The 1,150 solar modules will power virtually all of the company’s electricity demand and be the first remote net metering facility in Arkansas.

“Arkwest Communications strives to be a good steward of the environment and a leader in technology advances,” Arkwest President PT Sanders said in a statement. “With this new solar power plant, we are able to meet that goal while saving money on our electricity bills.”

The Danville system will produce nearly 20 million kilowatt hours of electricity over 30 years, enough to power 2,300 homes. At the dedication ceremony, Arkwest and Scenic Hill presented a $24,000 donation to The One Inc., a nonprofit helping the homeless with food, water, clothing and hygiene products. Aaron Reddin, the group’s founder, was present to accept the check.

In northeast Arkansas, Stone Creek Solar of Jonesboro is working on a number of projects for farms and for the Buffalo Island Central School District in nearby Monette. One key player in that previously reported project is farmer Mickey Seeman of Cash (Craighead County). Seeman’s Canera LLC provided the land and funding for the school system’s 766-kilowatt solar generation facility and has a service contract with school letting it reap power to lower current utility expenses, according to Stone Creek owner John Sawyer.

Stone Creek will start work on an array for Seeman’s farming operation, Seeman Family Farms, on July 15, Sawyer said. The 543-kilowatt system, comprising 1,530 solar panels, is expected to offset some $60,000 in energy expenses per year.

Another Stone Creek project, for Covington Farms of Jonesboro, will offset $40,000 of electricity costs for that farm with 784 solar panels in a 300-kilowatt generation system. “Both of these farmers will lessen their carbon footprint, as well as create more predictable expenses for their farming operations to grow into the future,” Sawyer told Arkansas Business.

He said customers choosing Stone Creek to own and operate solar plants powering operations through energy-purchase agreements have discovered that “the only thing they have to do is spend less on their annual utilities.”

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