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Producers Rice Mill, a Stuttgart cooperative that processes more than 60 million bushels of rice annually, is turning to solar in a big way to help meet its energy needs.

The cooperative will build a 26-megawatt solar power plant with up to 40 megawatts of energy storage capacity in conjunction with Scenic Hill Solar to supply electricity to its two mills in Stuttgart, according to a news release. The release said the project will be the largest commercial solar energy and storage facility in Arkansas.

Producers Rice Mill is still taking bids from contractors and, as a result, doesn't have a price tag for the project yet, Keith Glover, the mill's chief executive officer, said in an interview. He said the solar power plant, which will be situated on 160 acres and use more than 65,000 solar panels, would be online within six months once it receives Arkansas Public Service Commission approval.

But he said the savings will be considerable -- $100 million over 30 years, or an average of $3.3 million annually, according to the news release.

Energy costs at the two mills at the facility exceeded $4 million in the past year, according to Glover.

Solar will provide 67% of the mill's annual energy needs -- 44,200,000 kilowatts of electricity in the first year alone according to the news release.

Scenic Hill, a four-year-old company founded by former Lt. Gov. Bill Halter, already has developed solar projects for the city of Stuttgart and the Stuttgart School District.

"Stuttgart is already known as the 'Duck and Rice Capital of the World,'" the city's mayor, David Earney, said. "With this and the other already announced solar projects, we are on our way to adding 'Solar Capital' to the list."

The energy savings also will translate into a cleaner environment. The solar facility will reduce carbon emissions by more than 955,000 tons over 30 years, according to the news release.

"The positive environmental impacts are the equivalent of removing over 2 billion passenger car miles or of providing solar electricity for 5,000 homes per year," Halter said.

The mills at Stuttgart, which employ 400 people, mill and process 40 million bushels of rice annually and dry another 15 million annually at harvest time.

In the past 36 years, the facility has reduced water usage by 52%, greenhouse gas emissions by 41% and energy use by 34% according to Producers Rice Mill board chairman Jay Coker.

The solar facility "is the next logical step in reducing our carbon footprint," Glover said.

The Producer Rice Mill is the latest in a string of announcements involving solar power in The Natural State from an array of new companies.

Last month, Pulaski County announced it reached an agreement with Today's Power, which calls for the Electric Cooperatives of Arkansas subsidiary to build and operate an 8-megawatt solar facility that will power county offices at a savings of at least $150,000 in the first year.

In September, the city of Hot Springs teamed with Scenic Hill to announce the construction of the largest solar municipal project.

In March, Entergy Arkansas reached an agreement with NextEra Energy Resources LLC to build a 100-megawatt solar energy facility near Searcy in White County. The project will be the largest utility-owned solar facility in Arkansas and the first to feature a battery system for storing solar power.

Business on 11/26/2019

Print Headline: Rice cooperative to build solar plant

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