Amazon tied to solar projects in Cross, Crittenden counties

Solar panels make up part of a photovoltaic array in this April 20, 2011, file photo. (AP/Susan Montoya Bryan)
Solar panels make up part of a photovoltaic array in this April 20, 2011, file photo. (AP/Susan Montoya Bryan)

Amazon's plans for two solar farms in Arkansas -- in Cross and Crittenden counties -- arrived quietly and include a tie-in to a solar project previously announced.

An interactive map supplied by Amazon along with a news release Wednesday named the Cross County project Apple Blossom, which will produce 135 megawatts of solar energy by 2023.

Amazon's Big Cypress project in Crittenden County is the same as the 180-megawatt Big Cypress project announced months ago by Florida-based NextEra Energy Resources, Sara Cassidy, a spokeswoman for NextEra, said Thursday.

Amazon has agreed to buy 120 megawatts of Big Cypress' 180-megawatt capacity, Cassidy said. She said some clients, such as Amazon, prefer to keep quiet about such purchase agreements. "In this case it was just a matter of time before it was made public," Cassidy said.

The cities of Jonesboro and West Memphis also have signed agreements to buy solar power from the Big Cypress facility.

She said NextEra isn't affiliated with the Apple Blossom project in Cross County. The builder for that facility couldn't be determined Thursday.

Amazon's map shows that the general area of the Apple Blossom project is directly north of West Memphis and about 10 miles from the eastern border of Cross County.

The Arkansas Economic Development Commission had no contact with Amazon about the solar farms, a spokeswoman said.

Local officials also said they weren't aware of Amazon's plans.

"You've caught me off guard on that one," said Crittenden County Judge Woody Wheeless. "I've had a lot of dealings with companies and solar projects in the area, but Amazon is one company that has never been mentioned."

With or without Amazon's connection to Big Cypress, the project benefits West Memphis and Crittenden County, Wheeless said. "It's not a job creator per se, except early on in construction, but what it does do is bring in more income, because that property will be taxed at a higher rate than what farmland is taxed."

It's also a move toward the future, Wheeless said. "The direction we're headed, whether in solar or wind, is producing more renewable energy."

Cross County Judge Donnie Sanders also said he hadn't heard of Amazon's interest in solar farms in his county. "I know there's a company that's working with the city [Wynne] on a solar project, but Amazon's never been mentioned and I've been to City Council meetings and planning meetings for the last several months," Sanders said. "This sounds like something new."

NextEra also has built a 100-megawatt solar plant, the state's largest, near Lake Village, and an 81-megawatt solar farm near Stuttgart. It owns those facilities and sells the power to Entergy Arkansas. It also has a 100-megawatt project under construction near Searcy that will be owned by Entergy Arkansas when completed.

Amazon said the projects announced Wednesday will supply renewable energy for its corporate offices, data centers and fulfillment centers, where it sorts and processes customer orders.

Amazon has two fulfillment centers under construction in Little Rock and North Little Rock. The company in April began its efforts to hire 1,500 people to work at the two facilities, with some jobs starting in mid- to late summer.

The 14 new Amazon wind and solar projects are in 11 states. Those projects and completed ones boost Amazon's renewable-energy capability to more than 6 gigawatts, the company said. Amazon said it plans to reach net-zero carbon by 2040.