Arkansas utility pushes for state’s biggest #solar array

An Arkansas public utility is poised to offer its customers a choice of sun alongside its standard nuclear and hydro-powered fare, fattening the state’s super-slim solar industry.

Entergy Arkansas Inc., a subsidiary of Entergy Corp., yesterday announced a 20-year power purchase agreement with solar developer NextEra Energy Resources, which will supply the company’s solar generation if a proposed 81-megawatt solar facility gets the green light from the state’s Public Service Commission.

“We have evaluated proposals [for renewables] before, but this particular proposal made it more attractive for us,” Arkansas Entergy spokeswoman Sally Graham said in an interview with EnergyWire. Tax incentives and dropping solar module costs also helped the project’s appeal, Graham said.

Currently, Arkansas ranks 40th nationwide in solar use with only 4 MW of installed solar capacity, said Ken Johnson, vice president of communications for the Solar Energy Industries Association.

“[The project] is going to get [Arkansas] in the ballgame pretty quickly,” Johnson said. “There’s currently 4 MW online, so obviously the Entergy project is huge by comparison.”

Situated in the state’s southeastern Arkansas County, the solar arrays would blanket nearly 500 acres of land and generate enough energy to power 13,000 homes, making it the biggest solar facility in the state, according to the press release.

The company touts roughly $25 million to be saved by customers over 20 years through the project. Purchasing solar also adds to Entergy Arkansas’ mostly carbon-free resource mix, CEO Hugh McDonald said in the press release.

“Our generation portfolio is already one of the cleanest in the country,” McDonald said. “Both nuclear and solar provides emissions-free power and a neutral hedge for energy price fluctuations due to uncertain environmental regulations and natural gas price volatility.”

Coal, gas and nuclear generation makes up almost two-thirds of Arkansas’ power mix, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. For Entergy Arkansas, nuclear provides 71 percent of the electrical generation, Graham said. Purchasing potentially 81 MW of solar will make up less than 1 percent of its energy resources, Graham added, but “it’s a good place to start.”

But as companies look to increase their renewable power resources, the sun has proved a viable option for Arkansas residents, Graham said.

Johnson said Arkansas Entergy’s move follows a growing trend of Midwest states looking to add renewables to their grid.

“Obviously smart utilities are looking down the road with the [proposed] EPA Clean Power Plan and also when projecting future costs,” Johnson said.

NextEra wants to have the solar arrays up and running by 2019, according to the press release. Graham hopes the state’s utility regulators will approve the project this year.

At present, Arkansas Entergy hasn’t lined up similar renewable projects, Graham said.

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