The Little Rock School District has approved a solar power field by Entegrity of Little Rock that would supply 25% of the district’s electricity, and student requests pushed the turn toward renewable energy.
“It’s an awesome project,” Entegrity State Director Parker Higgs told Arkansas Business on Friday. “I think the best part is that it was student-driven. The school board mentioned last night that this started well over a year ago with a group of students imploring the board to investigate and try to execute a solar project.”
The solar field will be built and operated by Entegrity on 35 acres in Phillips County, and should cut the 22,000-student school system’s energy expenses to $4.5 million from $7 million over the next 25 years, Higgs said.
Entegrity, a subsidiary of Nabholz Construction of Conway, will sell the solar energy the array generates to the school system at a rate considerably less than it gets from its current electric utility, Energy Arkansas.
“It’s a great credit to the students, and to the district for fostering an environment where that’s allowed to happen,” Higgs said. “It’s a really cool story, and it’s taken quite a while to get to.”
The board did its due diligence, Higgs said, interviewing multiple solar companies and looking at many options. “Now we finally have approval, and it’s a great day. I live in Little Rock, and it’s awesome to be a part of this with my public school system.”
The students, board member Ali Noland said, “want to see us to be not only fiscally responsible but they also want us to be responsible consumers and do what is right for sustainability for our planet.”
The district will face upfront costs of about $41,000, then start generating long-term benefits, Higgs said. The solar array will have a capacity of 5 megawatts alternating current. “That’s the max capacity the state allows under net metering,” Higgs said, referring to the accounting system that gives solar customers credit with their utility for the power their systems put back onto the electric grid. “That’s probably the one disappointment about this project. The school district really has the capacity to do a much larger project, but they’re limited by state policy to 5 megawatts. We definitely could have built one about three times the size, if not more.”
Entegrity will work with the school district to integrate the array into district schools’ curriculums and job training programs, Higgs said.
Last month, Higgs described Entegrity’s work on multiple projects packaged together to power schools and municipalities and a state agency — three separate arrays totaling 6.5 megawatts in Nashville [Howard County] and four arrays totaling 7 megawatts in Booneville.
Those arrays, about a $20 million investment, are transmitting electricity through power purchase agreements with the Arkansas Division of Community Correction, the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture, the city of Prairie Grove, the city of Booneville, Booneville Public Schools, the Farmington School District and Fayetteville Public Schools.