Here comes the sun and I say it’s alright, Entergy Arkansas and NextEra Energy Resource officials announced Tuesday.
While no one was there to sing the Beatles’ solar-powered hit tune, Entergy and partner NextEra, along with local leaders in Arkansas County, christened the state’s largest universal solar energy project – the Stuttgart Solar Energy Center – during a sun-filled ceremony.
“This project allows Entergy Arkansas to diversify our power generation in the state and provide our customers with access to emissions-free, renewable energy at a good price,” said Rick Riley, president and CEO of Entergy Arkansas. “In NextEra Energy Resources we have an experienced partner to build and operate a project that will deliver tremendous value to our customers.”
According to company officials, the Stuttgart Solar facility will span 475 acres, approximately seven miles southeast of Stuttgart. Construction will last approximately nine months, and once complete will feature more than 350,000 photovoltaic solar panels that convert the sun’s energy into electricity.
“We are pleased to work with our partners at Entergy to bring low-cost, renewable energy to their customers and introduce the first universal solar project of this scale in Arkansas,” said Armando Pimentel, president and CEO of NextEra Energy Resources. “This project will bring good jobs, tax benefits and affordable, renewable energy to the state for decades to come.”
The solar energy center will have a capacity to generate 81 megawatts of electricity, or enough to power more than 13,000 homes. While a NextEra affiliate is developing the project and will build, own and operate it, Entergy Arkansas customers will get the benefit to purchase renewable energy under a 20-year power purchase agreement.
It has been just over two years since former Entergy Arkansas CEO Hugh McDonald first announced the so-called “Stuttgart Solar” project in Arkansas County to interconnect the solar facility to the utility giant’s transmission system by mid-2019. In late 2015, the state Public Service Commission (PSC) gave the okay for Entergy Arkansas Inc. (EAI) to move forward with the renewable energy project.
Under Entergy’s agreement with NextEra, power prices for the term of contract with remain fixed for 20 years, which utility officials say will benefit Arkansas electric customers by providing $25 million in estimated savings on the terms of the deal. During the construction phase, NextEra has said expects to employ some 200 to 300 workers and anticipates contributions of nearly $8 million to Arkansas tax coffers.
SOLAR PROJECT NUMBERS ON THE RISE
Once in operation, Entergy’s renewable energy development in Stuttgart will surpass Aerojet Rocketdyne’s 12-megawatt facility at the Highland Industrial Park in East Camden as the state’s largest solar project. Gov. AsacHutchinson and top Aerojet Rocketdyne executives celebrated the dedication of that new solar facility in September 2016.
Last month, former Lt. Gov. Bill Halter’s Scenic Hill Solar and cosmetics giant L’Oréal officially opened a solar panel project that will help power the perfume manufacturer’s North Little Rock plant. The 3,528 solar panels, which is the fourth largest project in Arkansas, were installed earlier this year and will provide 1.2 MW of renewable energy to the factory that is expected to reduce carbon emissions by 556 metric tons per year.
The 3,528 solar panels were installed earlier this year and will provide 1.2 MW of renewable energy to the factory that is expected to reduce carbon emissions by 556 metric tons per year. It is the fourth largest solar project in Arkansas, which is part of a growing docket of renewable energy dockets now before the PSC.
According to Arkansas Advanced Energy Association, energy efficiency and renewable energy project are already generating an annual economic benefit of $2.8 billion and 25,000 jobs across the state. There are two dockets before the PSC that is expected to boost renewable energy generation in Arkansas.
Under Docket No. 16-027-R established by the PSC a year ago, state utility regulators are looking at rules to determine appropriate rates, and terms for net metering contracts, including any changes necessary to the current regulations.
In Arkansas, qualified customers that generate electric power using solar, wind, hydropower, geothermal or qualified biomass resources can generate and use their own solar powered energy under the state’s net metering rules. According to the PSC, net metered customers that have a generating capacity of up to 25 kilowatts are credited for renewable energy they supply to the grid minus energy they consume.
Under ACT 827 of 2015, the PSC is exercising its authority to establish new guidelines for net metering facilities that exceed the state’s current limits, and to establish a revised rate structure for those customers. In conjunction with the net metering docket, the PSC has also opened Docket No. 16-028-U, which the AAEA officials called a “historic attempt” by the PSC to consider a full range of issues concerning renewable energy generation in Arkansas beyond net generation.