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After 35 years at Southwest Arkansas Electric Cooperative, CEO C. Wayne Whitaker got his day in the sun Monday as the electric cooperative honored his service with a surprise dedication of its new 1-megawatt solar generating facility in his name.
Whitaker, whose image is emblazoned on a plaque at the 3,800-panel single-axis tracking array off Highway 49 in Texarkana, called the designation a “great honor.”
“I’m very proud that the fine men and women on the cooperative board thought enough of me to do that,” Whitaker told Arkansas Business on Tuesday. “An honor like that makes you pause and just thank God for your blessings.”
Those, he said, include his wife, Diane, and daughters Stacey White and Sharla Stevanovic, who were also present at the solar array, which was designed to lower the distribution cooperative’s peak summer demand and was built and will be operated by Today’s Power Inc. of Little Rock.
“It is an honor to be part of this flip-the-switch ceremony and especially the dedication of this solar facility to Wayne Whitaker,” said TPI President Michael Henderson, who noted he’d worked with Whitaker as electric cooperative colleagues for more than three decades. “This solar system is a great representative of Wayne by being productive, leading edge, reliable and with great endurance.”
The array, on seven acres owned by SWEAC, has an expected lifespan of 25 years, and will provide power to the cooperative through a purchase agreement with Today’s Power. It is in full operation, and will help serve the cooperative’s 28,000 member accounts in Arkansas and parts of Texas and Oklahoma.
Whitaker is looking to retire in the coming months, and said the cooperative board has identified four finalists to fill his job. “Interviews will be going on in the next few weeks, and hopefully they will have somebody on board by the first of the year,” Whitaker said in a telephone interview. “The board has asked me to stay for a couple of months as an adviser, to help get the individual up to speed. There are certain things going on in the electric cooperative world, including cooperatives looking into broadband. I’ll advise on things like that, but I’m sure they’ll hire somebody very capable.”