More than 2,000 acres optioned for a large solar farm in Crittenden County by Pattern Energy of San Francisco could be better used for commercial transport industries, some nearby landowners and government officials say.
Pattern Solar & Storage Development LLC of Houston, a subsidiary of Pattern Energy, which has nearly 70 wind and solar generation projects in operation or development worldwide, has filed ground lease option agreements on farmland near West Memphis and Marion.
The land is ideal for industrial development in a region bustling with intermodal transport operations just south of the Union Pacific Intermodal Terminal in Marion, a hub that handles about 400,000 shipping containers a year. That’s 2% of all container traffic in the nation.
The acreage is also adjacent to Interstate 40, heavily used by trucking companies, and near Hino Motors Manufacturing in Marion, which produces axles and suspension components for Toyota Tacoma and Tundra pickups, as well as the Sequoia SUV.
One local landowner who spoke on the condition of anonymity said he wasn’t against solar generation, “but the solar field could go somewhere else, onto farmland that’s not ripe for new transportation jobs and companies.”
Another neighbor is the West Memphis I-40 Megasite, 1,818 acres that the state and Entergy Arkansas are pitching as a commercial transport site just 3 miles from UP’s main line and intermodal facility and 8 miles from West Memphis’ port on the Mississippi River. That site has drawn considerable interest from site selectors for major enterprises, and the land has a sale price of about $20,000 per acre.
The landowners granting the lease options are the Hardin Partnership LP, led by Edward Hardin, Guaranty Loan & Real Estate of West Memphis, On Broadway LLC of West Memphis and Meredith Hardin. Plot sizes range from 20 acres to 455 acres.
Nick Coulter, communications director for the city of West Memphis, said he had spoken to a number of stakeholders about the solar field. “I wish we could come up with a way to use land that can’t be used for other things,” he said. “To me, that’s where the benefit would be greater versus taking, you know, rich industrial sites,” potentially taking jobs away.
We want to know if [Pattern] is going to use all of the land, or if they got some parts under option just in case they need it,” he said. “Those are the kinds of questions we have.”
First District U.S. Rep. Rick Crawford has also expressed reservations about the Pattern project, and the Biden administration’s push for solar power in general. The company has more than a dozen operational wind energy projects in North America and operational solar fields in Massachusetts, Texas and Mexico.
Matt Dallas, a Pattern spokesman, said the project, known as Upper Delta Solar, is still in its early stages, but plans call for 250 megawatts of capacity “to bring safe, clean power” to the Arkansas Delta. It represents an investment of more than $300 million “into the local economy and we estimate it will generate roughly 400 construction jobs,” he told Arkansas Business in an email. “Pattern Energy prioritizes local workforce and resources when hiring contractors and workers for the site.”
Pattern Energy did not respond to requests for comment, though its website lists the West Memphis project as “in development.” Guaranty Loan & Real Estate also didn’t respond to a comment request, and a number listed for Hardin Partnership on the Marion Chamber of Commerce website repeatedly yielded a busy signal.
Entergy’s nearby West Memphis Solar project, on the other hand, has unbridled support from the city. In a May 2021 letter, Mayor Marco McClendon wrote in favor of it on behalf of the city and Crittenden County. Coulter said the project is about 10 miles west of the proposed Pattern project, on less developed cropland.