Water and sunshine will make for a good mix in north Arkansas, says Scenic Hill Solar CEO and former Arkansas Lt. Gov. Bill Halter.
Halter’s company in North Little Rock has partnered with the Ozark Mountain Regional Public Water Authority, which supplies drinking water in four counties, to build a $3 million, 2-megawatt solar power plant to fill 90 percent of the utility’s electricity needs.
Scenic Hill will construct, own and operate the plant, selling power to Ozark Mountain Water under a long-term contract, Halter told Arkansas Business. “We’re continuing to push forward, and this is an exciting project,” he said. “We’ll be providing power for a wholesale water supplier to 18 different water cooperatives and utilities” in four counties: Searcy, Newton, Marion and Boone.
The water authority, formed in 2006, which pulls water from Bull Shoals Lake, treats it and distributes it, expects to save ratepayers $3 million in power costs over 28 years. The project will provide added property tax revenues, contribute to environmental quality and “provide some competition to monopoly electric utilities,” according to a Scenic Hill news release.
Andy Anderson, chairman of the authority, said he expected the project to become a “model for the Ozarks regional, and will protect our customers against future rate increases.” By freeing up budget dollars, the solar power plant will help the association keep up cost-effective service for its rural water association customers, he said.
Halter said he was pleased “to partner with these forward-looking leaders and to invest over $3 million into the local economy — simultaneously creating jobs, reducing electricity costs, and improving the environment.”
“When unemployment is over 15 percent and headed toward Great Depression levels,” he said, “this project can provide a sevenfold win.” He cited economic stimulus and job creation; creating a magnet for economic development, luring companies with sustainability goals; reduced costs for 20,000 water customers; long-term pricing predictability; increased property tax revenue for local governments and school districts; environmental benefits; and “improved national security by reducing dependence on international oil and natural gas markets.”
Building will start “after all governmental approvals are received,” Halter said, predicting completion in early 2021.
“Everything is waiting on the ruling,” Halter said, referring to an Arkansas Public Service Commission decision on rates for utilities putting solar power onto the electric grid. The ruling on net-metering, four years and more in the making, is expected nearly any day, with potentially momentous impact on the solar installation industry.
“As soon as that’s decided,” Halter said, “we’re certainly in a position to put $100 million of capital to use all over Arkansas, creating hundreds of jobs, saving ratepayers money and improving the environment.”