Stuttgart mill plans huge solar project

An array of solar cells is installed on the roof of a building in Decatur, Ga., in this Sept. 26, 2013 file photo. The cells capture solar energy and convert it into direct-current electrical energy. (AP/David Tulis)
An array of solar cells is installed on the roof of a building in Decatur, Ga., in this Sept. 26, 2013 file photo. The cells capture solar energy and convert it into direct-current electrical energy. (AP/David Tulis)

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.

"We'll be finished with the project by the end of this calendar year," Scenic Hill Solar Chief Executive Officer Bill Halter said in a phone call on Thursday, adding work on the project has already begun.

"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.

"We project the microgrid will deliver millions of dollars in savings on our electric bills over the next 30 years. ... 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," Producers Rice Mill CEO Keith Glover said in the release.

"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 Solutions Inc., that will allow the mill to operate uninterrupted when electricity may be 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 and EPC inverters, both built in the U.S.

"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 Inc., 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 electricity grids and continue operating on their own, such as when a main electrical grid is down, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.

The systems are touted for being able to integrate locally produced renewable energy like solar, to facilitate faster system response and recovery if there's an issue on a main grid and for being more efficient.

"There have been a significant number of solar power plants for individual farmers, but this project is by far the largest solar and battery storage and microgrid for any agricultural entity in Arkansas that I'm aware of," Halter said.

"It is the biggest [project] we have done to date."

Halter said the project is two-and-a-half times larger than any commercial and industrial solar power project that has been completed in Arkansas.

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 draw power from the solar array during electrical service interruptions, the release stated.

Using battery storage for generated solar power, as well as a microgrid controller system, should mitigate power quality problems or any intermittent power failures.

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

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