By Sean Ingram
CLARKSVILLE -- The Johnson County community of Clarksville got a pretty good Christmas present -- a solar power project that is big enough to get electricity to about 25 percent of the city's households.
John Lester, general manager of Clarksville Light and Water, said Thursday that the city's solar power plant reached mechanical completion on Dec. 22 and was added to the utility's electric power grid and became commercially operable the next day.
A ribbon-cutting ceremony for the facility -- that includes 20,000 solar panels that cover 42 acres off Interstate 40 at Exit 55 -- has been scheduled for noon on Wednesday, Jan. 24.
"We have done research for about two years," Lester said when asked about how the project came about. "I used to work for a trade association, a power agency from municipalities in Missouri, and a lot of those cities own their utilities. I started seeing them do solar projects, then realized that the economics for solar energy for the Midwest really worked.
"From a systems savings standpoint, we save our customers about $500,000 a year. I buy $15 million in wholesale electricity and resell it to our customers."
Lester said this was the largest municipal-oriented solar power plant in Arkansas by far and is the state's third-largest solar power plant.
"It is big enough to power the Hanes Brand plant by itself," he said. "It is big enough to power about 25 percent of our households. When both our hydro and solar resources are producing power, Clarksville will be producing half its power from renewable energy sources.
"The interesting thing is that it is set up on a tracker system. If you drove by [on Main Street or U.S. Highway 64 outside town], trackers hold the panels so they can face the morning sun coming up in the east. Then they follow the sun as it sets in the west."
The solar power plant can provide 5 megawatts of alternating current (AC) or 6.5 megawatts of direct current (DC). In its first year, Lester said it will produce over 11 million kilowatt hours (kWh) of electricity and over 305 million kilowatt hours over three decades.
The city agreed to purchase power from the plant on a 30-year purchase agreement, even though the city has the right to purchase it in year eight.
"The reason we put the package together this way is one of the big incentives for a private developer is tax credits, and a private developer can take advantage of tax credits," he said. "I cannot because we work for a municipal power. But I can lease the property to a private developer to build the plant.
Lester explained that the city signed a contract with the project developer, Scenic Hill Solar and CEO Bill Halter at the end of June, and construction began in October. The actual time of construction was about three months -- many months ahead of schedule.
"That's pretty amazing," Lester said.
According to its website, Scenic Hill Solar provides clients clean electricity, reduced energy prices and long-term electricity price certainty by developing client specific solar energy plans. Scenic Hill Solar provides clients lower priced renewable electricity either under contract or through turnkey delivery of solar power plants, with the selection depending on our clients' specific needs. The CEO is a former lieutenant governor of Arkansas.
Lester added that there is a possibility of an additional two more megawatts, and the room for expansion would be considered at a location in the city's current business park.
"There is a possibility other locations might exist, too," he said.
To view a live webcam feed of the plant and its solar panels, visit www.clarksvilleconnected.net
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