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Entergy Arkansas announced Wednesday that it has gained approval to build the state's largest utility-owned solar project in White County.

The solar array in Searcy will produce 100 megawatts of solar power and have 10 megawatts of battery storage, which will help provide power on cloudy days.

"Large-scale solar facilities provide the most cost-effective solar power for all customers, keeping rates low while delivering the best value for renewables in Arkansas," Laura Landreaux, Entergy Arkansas' president and chief executive officer, said in a news release.

The Arkansas Public Service Commission has signed off on the development, which is projected to be completed in 2021.

Arkansas' largest solar power array is to be just 10 miles away in the community of Happy, which also is in White County. The British solar company Lightsource BP is building that 132-megawatt project, and the electricity it generates will be purchased by Conway Corp.

Conway Corp. will provide electricity for the customers it serves in the city of Conway.

Another 100-megawatt project is expected to come online in 2021. Arkansas Electric Cooperatives Corp. of Little Rock has agreed to purchase 100 megawatts of electricity generated on an 800-acre solar farm near Crossett operated by Renewable Energy Systems Americas Inc. of Colorado.

Entergy's Searcy solar project, however, will be the largest utility-owned effort in the state and the first to feature battery storage. The facility is projected to operate for 30 years.

Entergy, the state's largest electric utility, has a similar-size project under development in Chicot County near Lake Village. That solar array is scheduled to begin generating power this year.

Entergy's entire base of 700,000 electric customers in Arkansas will benefit from the solar projects, the company said.

"When we reach a deal for lower-cost solar, all customers benefit by way of more affordable and stable rates," said Kurt Castleberry, Entergy Arkansas' director of resource planning and market operations.

The electric utility also has operated a solar facility in Stuttgart since 2018. When all three projects are operating, Entergy will have the ability to generate 281 megawatts of electricity covering more than 2,000 acres.

Entergy's facilities will produce enough electricity to power about 45,000 homes, or roughly the population of Pine Bluff.

Officials praised the Searcy project, which is expected to deliver about $700,000 in additional tax payments. Arkansas Commerce Secretary Mike Preston said it will help retain existing businesses and attract new ones to the area.

"Many corporations have renewable energy and sustainability objectives," Preston said in the news release. "This facility, combined with Entergy's other large solar facilities in Arkansas, will help us strengthen and grow the state's economy."

Even one of the utility's fiercest foes welcomed news of an additional solar plant in Arkansas.

"Entergy Arkansas' latest solar project is further evidence of the growing utilization of advanced energy resources across Arkansas," said Katie Niebaum, executive director of the Arkansas Advanced Energy Association. "The state has seen a rapid increase in solar deployment in particular in recent years, from residential and smaller commercial systems to utility-scale projects."

The association has tangled with Entergy over how customers using solar power should be compensated when they return power to the electric grid in the net-metering process. The Public Service Commission is expected to issue a ruling on that issue soon.

The White County facility will be built on about 800 acres east of Searcy. It will include a 10-megawatt array of lithium-ion batteries capable of storing up to 30 megawatt hours of electricity.

Entergy Arkansas provides electricity to 700,000 customers in 63 counties. It is a subsidiary of New Orleans-based Entergy Corp., which also operates electric utilities in Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas.

Business on 04/30/2020

Print Headline: Entergy gains OK for solar project

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