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Entergy Arkansas has plugged into its second major solar power facility, a 350,000-panel array near Lake Village that is now the largest in Arkansas.
The 100-megawatt Chicot Solar Energy Center, the second of four major Entergy solar plants in the works in Arkansas, will generate enough sun current to power 18,000 homes. Like the Stuttgart Solar Energy Center, the 81-megawatt plant that was Entergy Arkansas’ first major solar project, Chicot Solar is a collaboration with NextEra Energy Resources of Juno Beach, Florida. A NextEra subsidiary owns and operates the power plants, selling the energy to Entergy under 20-year purchase agreements.
“We are proud to be the largest provider of solar energy in the state, as utility-scale solar projects like Chicot Solar allow all of our customers to have access to clean, renewable power at the lowest reasonable costs,” Entergy Arkansas CEO Laura Landreaux said in a statement.
Entergy has two similar but utility-owned solar projects in the works for Searcy and for a site in Lee County near Brinkley. Those projects, with Invenergy Renewables LLC of Chicago as their builder, will be owned by Entergy. The center near Brinkley, still pending regulatory approval, will be known as Walnut Bend Solar.
Solar power has evolved into the least expensive sort of electricity to generate globally, but a battle over how to deliver it to customers has played out over five years of regulatory hearings on the state’s solar power policies. Third-party solar installers have made inroads in building smaller-scale arrays for schools, cities and water districts under a 2019 state renewable energy law that allowed nontaxed entities to partner with solar providers who actually own the facilities and reap investment tax credits. They pass along the lower costs to the public entities, benefiting both sides financially.
Entergy Arkansas has countered by offering subscriptions to solar power from its Stuttgart plant. Those subscriptions have been limited in scope by the Arkansas Public Service Commission, which oversees public utilities, but Entergy officials have consistently argued that large-scale utility arrays are the most efficient at harvesting sun power.
“Entergy Arkansas supports solar energy as part of a diverse generating mix for several reasons, including environmental cleanliness, economic benefits to communities and cost savings for customers,” the company’s solar power statement says. “The solar facilities increase the electrical power supply and enhance voltage levels on the surrounding grid, both of which contribute to improved service reliability and availability.”
Entergy added that the Lake Village project, one example of parent company Entergy Corp.’s commitment to replace older fossil-fueled power plants with “more green resources,” is expected to create nearly $7 million in additional revenue for Chicot County. Much of that, Entergy said, will go to the school system.
Michael Considine, Entergy Arkansas’ vice president of customer service, told Arkansas Business in a recent interview keeping electricity inexpensive is the best economic development incentive the utility can offer Arkansans.
“I’m unapologetic about that,” Considine said. “Arkansas residents have the benefit of very low electric rates nationally and regionally, and that’s a great thing, driving business and economic development in the state to benefit all. We have the size and financial ability to invest in large-scale facilities such Stuttgart, and Chicot, and the Searcy solar facility that will be built in White County. And there will be more after those.”
Citing the “levelized cost of energy,” Considine said that large utility solar capitalizes on economies of scale to offer sun power at its least expensive. “It is certainly cheaper than building small-scale, for a multitude of reasons.”
Entergy Arkansas, which serves about 700,000 homes and businesses in the state, derives more than 70% of its generation from Arkansas Nuclear One near Russellville. It also owns or operates four hydroelectric plants, a natural-gas powered steam generation plant and three natural gas turbine generators. The company has vowed to phase out four coal-fired generation plants in the state by 2030.
Entergy Corp. of New Orleans, the Arkansas utility’s parent company, announced a commitment last month to achieve net-zero carbon emissions by 2050.
“And we are passionate and driven to grow these types of renewable facilities,” Considine said. “We’re committed to keeping electricity affordable, and utility-scale solar provides those economics.”