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Rice producers building 20-megawatt solar array for Stuttgart plant

by Cristina LaRue | March 23, 2023 at 6:48 p.m.
Solar panels make up part of a photovoltaic array in this April 20, 2011, file photo. (AP/Susan Montoya Bryan)

Stuttgart will soon be the home of the largest commercial and industrial solar project in Arkansas and one of the largest microgrid projects in the nation.

Arkansas-based Scenic Hills Solar is developing and directing the construction of a 20-megawatt solar array supported by a battery storage facility for Producers Rice Mill, according to Bill Halter, the chief executive officer of Scenic Hill Solar.

“We’ll be finished with the project by the end of this calendar year,” Halter said in a phone call on Thursday. “A significant amount of pile driving and construction of the tracking systems has already begun, and all of the civil work has been done as well.”

The installation is expected to boost renewable energy usage at the plant and provide 67% of the facility’s energy needs, according to a news release.

“But that really does depend upon the electricity consumption of the mill and, of course, varies with how much rice is being milled,” Halter said.

The new system will be installed about three-quarters of a mile from Producers Rice Mill’s main facility in Stuttgart. Producers Rice Mill CEO Keith Glover said in the news release that the company projected “millions of dollars in savings on our electric bills over the next 30 years" from the microgrid.

“It will further our commitment to sustainability and deliver greater economic security as we continue our tradition of providing one of the world’s most important foods,” Glover added. “In addition, our solar power plant, battery storage, and microgrid will allow Producers to deliver power to the utility grid during times of grid stress, providing a huge benefit for other utility customers.”

The project is a new type of solar and storage microgrid system developed by Scenic Hill Solar and built by CS Energy and KORE Power Inc. that will allow the mill to operate uninterrupted if electricity is curtailed by local utilities.

KORE Solutions Inc. will install an energy storage system and microgrid controller using the company’s Mark 1 lithium-ion batteries, as well as inverters made by EPC Power that will convert the solar panels' direct current into the alternating current carried on the electric grid. The batteries and the power inverters are all built in the United States, according to the news release.

“With the recently passed federal legislation supporting microgrid development, we’re excited to work with Scenic Hill and CS Energy to deliver this project,” Gregg Noble, vice president of Strategic Partnerships and Sales at Kore Solutions, said in the news release. “This is a fantastic example of a microgrid system helping an industrial producer overcome electricity challenges.”

Microgrids are localized grids that can disconnect from traditional electric grids and continue operating on their own, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.

These systems are touted for their efficiency, as well as for being able to integrate locally produced renewable energy such as solar power. Supporters say they can facilitate system response and recovery if there’s an issue on a main grid.

The project is not the largest solar array ever announced in Arkansas — a 122-megawatt solar facility, which is wholly owned by Arkansas Electric Cooperative Corp., is expected to begin providing power in Woodruff County this July. But in terms of businesses, Halter said, “this project is by far the largest solar and battery storage and microgrid for any agricultural entity in Arkansas that I’m aware of.

“It is the biggest [project] we have done to date,” Halter added.

Solar energy will be used at Producers Rice Mill’s facility to help process, store and ship rice harvests for the cooperative’s more than 2,000 members who grow approximately 350,000 acres of rice. Farmer members grow rice in Arkansas, Mississippi, Louisiana and Missouri.

The facility in Stuttgart mills more than 40 million bushels of rice each year.

Producers Rice Mill has four rice mills and 12 storage and receiving locations in Arkansas and Mississippi.

This energy storage system would allow the mill to be powered by the local grid and to draw power from the solar array during electrical service interruptions, the release stated.

Producers Rice Mill has been operating since 1943 and processes domestically grown rice products including long grain milled white rice, long grain milled brown rice, medium grain rice, parboiled rice, rice bran and rice hulls.


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