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Searcy Solar, Largest Array With Storage in State, to Turn Dirt Next Month

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Entergy Arkansas and NextEra Energy Resources will start construction next month on what will be the state’s largest sun power array with battery storage, a 100-megawatt plant in White County.

The project, the Searcy Solar Energy Center, will employ 250 construction workers and include 10 megawatts of storage capacity for three hours of daily power when the sun isn’t shining. Site preparation and road construction will start in November, and the construction team is mobilized, according to officials with the NextEra, of Juno Beach, Florida, which is building the plant. 

“We anticipate installing pilings and solar panels next spring, with the project expected to become operational by the end of 2021,” said Bryan Garner, NextEra’s director of communications. “We expect the project will create approximately 250 construction jobs to build it, which will provide a good boost to the local economy.” 

The goal is to hire as many local workers as possible, a company imperative wherever NextEra builds its plants, Garner told Arkansas Business last week.

Unlike Entergy’s two previous major solar partnerships with NextEra — near Stuttgart and Lake Village — the Searcy project will be owned by Entergy. It recently received regulatory approval from the Arkansas Public Service Commission.

Stuttgart Solar and Chicot Solar, which came online in 2018 and this year, respectively, “are owned and operated by subsidiaries of NextEra Energy Resources, providing clean energy to Entergy Arkansas through power purchase agreements,” Garner said. “Searcy Solar is different in that Entergy Arkansas will assume ownership of the project once our company has completed construction.”

On about 800 acres east of Eastline Road, the Searcy project will include hundreds of thousands of solar panels and an array of lithium-ion batteries with storage capacity of up to 30 megawatt-hours of power.

Its generation capacity will match Chicot as the largest in the state, and the plant is part of a commitment by the Arkansas utility’s parent company, Entergy Corp. of New Orleans, to achieve net-zero carbon emissions by 2050. Entergy Arkansas, which derives 70% of its electricity from zero-emissions nuclear generation at Arkansas Nuclear One in Russellville, has also pledged to close its coal-fired plants in Redfield and Newark over the next decade.

“Searcy Solar will be Entergy Arkansas’ third large-scale solar facility. It will provide affordable, emission-free power for our customers when it comes on line in late 2021,” Kurt Castleberry, the utility’s director of resource planning and market operations, told Arkansas Business in an email. “With the addition, our solar generation portfolio will have grown from zero megawatts in 2018 to 381 megawatts in 2021. That’s enough solar power for 45,000 average sized homes.”

And Entergy Arkansas isn’t finished. It will soon request Public Service Commission approval for a fourth big sun plan, Walnut Bend Solar in Lee County near Brinkley. That array, pending regulatory approval, will be built by Invenergy Renewables LLC of Chicago and will also be owned by Entergy Arkansas, the state’s largest power company, serving 715,000 homes and businesses.

“These solar facilities will contribute to the economic development of our state and they will provide significant benefits to our customers for many years to come,” Castleberry said. “Entergy is proud to be the solar leader in Arkansas.”

Garner said NextEra is “very pleased to help expand access to renewable energy in the state while providing economic growth for the communities that host these projects.” He said the battery system’s “innovative design will allow Entergy Arkansas to store solar energy and release it to the grid when customers most need it,” and have that solar energy available over more hours of the day.

“Large-scale solar facilities provide the most cost-effective solar power for all customers, keeping rates low while delivering the best value for renewables in Arkansas,” Entergy Arkansas President and CEO Laura Landreaux said in a company statement

The plant will require two or three permanent workers, and will add about $700,000 in annual property taxes. In various statements of support, Arkansas Secretary of Commerce Mike Preston praised the Searcy plant as a future economic development tool, and local officials hailed another renewable energy success story in central Arkansas. 

“Many corporations have renewable energy and sustainability objectives,” Preston said. “This facility, combined with Entergy’s other large solar facilities in Arkansas, will help us strengthen and grow the state’s economy.”

State Sen. Jonathan Dismang, R-Searcy, called the solar plant “welcome news for the area” and a “much-needed economic benefit to Searcy and White County.” State Rep. Les Eaves, R-Searcy, thanked Entergy for its leadership.

White County Judge Michael Lincoln praised the county’s recent success in landing solar projects, citing the municipal utility Conway Corp.’s development of a 132-megawatt solar station in the county in conjunction with Lightsource BP, a division of British Petroleum. Lightsource BP financed, built and will own the array, selling the sun power to Conway Corp. under a fixed-rate power purchase agreement.

Searcy Mayor Kyle Osborne called Searcy Solar “an economic shot in the arm. 

“This will be another positive feature we can use to promote Searcy as a great place to live and work,” he said. 

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