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Union County JPs plan vote next month on solar project

by Caitlan Butler | March 24, 2023 at 3:05 a.m.
Jay Holstead, an account manager for McKinstry, presents a proposal on solar energy for Union County to Justices of the Peace in July 2022. (News-Times file)

EL DORADO -- The Union County Quorum Court will decide next month whether to begin going green with a solar field that could provide power to all county facilities.

During their monthly meeting last week, justices of the peace got a chance to see a final proposal for a county-owned solar field from McKinstry, a national energy services firm.

According to the proposal, installing a solar field at a site on Industrial Road where the county landfill was previously would cost $3,165,873 up front, and it would take the county 15 years to completely pay it off through savings on electricity costs.

Federal tax credits for green investments could help offset the upfront cost as well, said District 1 Justice of the Peace Mike Dumas, who chairs the Quorum Court's finance committee.

"Under one scenario, we get 40% [in tax credits]. They said we most likely would get 40% back from the ... federal government," Dumas said. "They say we could get as much as 50% back."

According to the U.S. Department of Energy, investment tax credits are available to public entities, like the county, for the equipment and some installation costs related to solar projects like the one the Quorum Court is considering.

McKinstry estimates Union County could receive a tax credit of 40%-50%, which would cut the upfront cost of the project by $1.2 million to $1.5 million, dropping the county's bill to $1.5 million to $1.9 million.

The News-Times reached out to McKinstry to ask how the company determined Union County could be eligible for a 40%-50% tax credit but did not receive a response by press time Tuesday.

The solar field will begin generating revenue for the county by its 16th year operating, according to McKinstry's proposal. If the county can get a tax credit of 50% of the cost of building the solar field, the project would start generating money by its 13th year.

County Judge Mike Loftin said that if justices of the peace approve the solar field, funding could be drawn from the American Rescue Plan Act covid-19 relief funds the county was awarded in 2021-2022.

Dumas said he and Loftin interviewed a second company that "indicated they could do the job for less money," but "they have not submitted a bid."

District 7 Justice of the Peace Johnny Burson asked what the lifespan of the solar panels used in the project would be. Loftin said the solar panels come with a 25-year warranty, and they're supposed to remain in good working order for at least 30 years.

District 4 Justice of the Peace Steve Ward asked how many other counties or cities that used solar energy to power their facilities liked the change.

"I've talked to several judges that have them or are in the process of getting them. So far, they're pleased," Loftin answered.

Ward pressed Loftin, asking about Camden's solar usage. Ouachita County began utilizing solar energy to power the Ouachita County Medical Center, Detention Center and the City of Camden's wastewater plant in 2019.

"They're working and they're happy with them. They're not as happy with Entergy as they should be, with the way they're figuring their megawatts or whatever – kilowatts, excuse me," Loftin said.

The Union County project would benefit from one-to-one net metering, meaning that kilowatt-hours produced by a customer through renewable energy sources and supplied to the local power grid are credited to the customer's account against the kilowatt-hours they use from the grid at a one-to-one ratio, Loftin said.

All county facilities, including the jail, the revenue office, the Robards building (which houses the Union County Local Health Unit), the courthouse and the El Dorado-Union County Chamber of Commerce building would utilize the solar power generated by the field.

Dumas asked justices of the peace to consider McKinstry's proposal over the next month. He said the Quorum Court will take a vote at their next meeting, scheduled for 10 a.m. on April 20.

"Think about it, and if you have any questions, Judge Loftin will answer them for you, and next month, we will gather and vote on this item," he said.

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