by Kyle Massey
Tom Jacobs wondered if the sunshine pouring onto his 1,200 acres might feasibly power some of his farm operations in DeWitt, so he volunteered to become a guinea pig.
“Maybe guinea pig isn’t exactly the right term, but somebody has to step out and be first,” he said after Seal Energy Solutions of North Little Rock installed a 30-kilowatt array of 84 photovoltaic solar panels on a south-facing site on his farm. The all-in cost was about $70,000, which he expects to recoup in energy savings over the next seven years or so, factoring in tax incentives and depreciation.
“Real-world numbers are what counts,” he told Arkansas Business, “and it helps if the guy doing the testing is the guy writing the check.”
(Related: PSC to Rule on Utility Rates in Solar Energy Showdown)
Jacobs’ project is just a sample from a solar power boomlet all over Arkansas. Seal will also be installing 220 panels at HVAC contractor Powers of Arkansas in North Little Rock next month; Scenic Hill Solar of Little Rock is building a $10 million municipal plant in Clarksville; and Koontz Electric Co. of Morrilton this month released details on solar projects in Arkansas and several other states.
Courtney Little, president of ACE Glass Construction Corp., is partnering with Entegrity Energy Partners of Little Rock to install a 150-kilowatt array at a new headquarters and manufacturing facility near the Little Rock airport. It will power his efficiency-retrofitted 10,000-SF office space, a 10,000-SF warehouse and a 25,000-SF shop, he said.
“We’ve insulated the roof, painted the underside white, and we’re putting in LED lights,” he said, describing the project at 3101 Dugan St. The 22,000 SF of solar panels will sit on 2 acres on the south side of the property. Little said that his 110-employee company pays electric bills approaching $20,000 a year, which he hopes to reduce to near zero.
“The timeline for solar to pay for itself has been coming down,” he said. We first looked at the possibility five years or so ago, but the return on investment was not enough to push ahead. Now it’s a good time to invest in solar, and after 10 years, that $20,000 a year that has been going for electricity will be savings.”
Stratton Seed Co. of Stuttgart is having Solar & Renewable Power Systems of Jackson, Tennessee, install a 1-megawatt system to power all 11 of its facilities. The family-owned agriculture supplier hopes to complete the project, with a ballpark cost of $1.5 million, by the end of the year.
The array is the first net-metering project to gain state regulatory approval to generate more than 300 kilowatts of power. “To be a small family business and be the first company in the state to do this net metering is pretty exciting,” CEO Wendell Stratton said.
Koontz, which has 175 employees, recently completed a 250-kilowatt solar array at the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff.
It also built the grid interconnection for what will be the state’s largest solar array, Entergy Arkansas’ 81-megawatt solar farm on 475 acres 8 miles southeast of Stuttgart. That project’s 364,000 panels are expected to come online in January.
Scenic Hill is paying to build a 6.5-megawatt project for Clarksville Light & Water Co. and will operate it while the utility buys its power under a 30-year agreement. The municipal utility will pay 5.8 cents per kilowatt, saving its 4,500 customers some $500,000 a year.
Today’s Power Inc. of Little Rock, a subsidiary of Arkansas Electric Cooperatives Inc., broke ground on a 120-kilowatt solar project Saturday for South Arkansas Telephone Co., which says it hopes to become the first solar-powered telephone company in the United States. In partnership with Ouachita Electric Cooperative Corp., SATCO is putting 400 solar panels at its headquarters in Hampton (Calhoun County). Today’s Power is providing equipment and financing for the project, which will generate enough electricity to power the equivalent of 16 homes.