by Talk Business and Politics staff
Solar power developer Scenic Hill Solar of North Little Rock announced Thursday (June 6) a partnership with the city of Camden and Ouachita County to build a 6.5-megawatt solar power system that will provide enough electricity to power all their governmental operations with solar energy.
The south-central Arkansas city and county, with a combined population of about 35,600 people, would be the first city and county combination in the state to power all their operations with solar energy, according to a news release. The solar power system, which is expected to start operating in late 2019 or early 2020, will also provide renewable energy for Camden Water Utilities and Ouachita County Medical Center.
“This partnership between Camden, Ouachita County and Scenic Hill Solar allows us to reduce our carbon footprint while saving money for our citizens,” Mayor Julian Lott said. “We will reduce our spending on electricity, we will have a long-term hedge against electricity price increases, and we can improve the sustainability of our operations. We are excited to partner with Ouachita County to become the first city and county combination in Arkansas to target 100% solar electricity for all our governmental operations.”
Scenic Hill Solar will build, own and operate the solar power system that will be on land leased from Ouachita County. It will comprise multiple power plants and their individual sizes and exact locations have yet to be determined, said Bill Halter, CEO of Scenic Hill Solar. The city of Camden and Ouachita County will purchase power from the plants, according to terms of a solar power services agreement. The agreement will be for 20 years and include two five-year options to extend, Halter said.
“Adding the solar power plants allows the city of Camden and Ouachita County to be on the cutting edge of renewable power for the future,” County Judge Robert McAdoo said. “We are excited about the budget savings and the economic development benefits from the investments being made in our community by Scenic Hill Solar.”
David Richardson, general manager of Camden Water Utilities, was excited to partner with Scenic Hill Solar to help reduce energy costs. “Equally exciting is that this is a joint project between the city of Camden, Camden Water Utilities and Ouachita County — working together in an effort to go green while reducing our budget expenses at the same time,” he said. “The city of Camden and Camden Water Utilities alone are projected to save over $115,000 in the first full year of operation with the possibility of even more savings in the future. Before committing, we had numerous meetings with Scenic Hill Solar to address questions. We very much look forward to working with Scenic Hill Solar as we move the city of Camden and Camden Water Utilities into the future.”
Peggy Abbott, CEO of Ouachita County Medical Center, explained she’s been an advocate of renewable energy for a long time but was previously prevented from using it because of the high costs. “No longer,” she said. “Now, we will save scarce budget dollars and devote the savings directly to healthcare. Further, the generation of solar electricity has no harmful impacts on health and the environment while some other methods of electricity generation can contribute to asthma and other lung diseases. This is a winner for our budget, a winner for the environment and a winner for health.”
Halter noted he was proud to work with Camden and Ouachita County to become the first city and county combination to use 100% solar electricity for all their government operations. “This project demonstrates that businesses and government organizations can simultaneously save money, hedge against future electricity price increases, protect the environment and foster local economic development,” he said.
The plants, with more than 16,000 solar panels, are expected to produce more than 9.9 million kilowatt-hours of electricity in the first year of operation and more than 276.4 million kilowatt-hours of electricity over the next 30 years. The plants are projected to reduce carbon emissions by over 195,000 metric tons — the equivalent of driving more than 477 million fewer passenger car miles or preventing the burning of over 213 million pounds of coal.
Scenic Hill Solar recently announced the construction of solar power plants that are expected to meet all electricity demand for the governmental operations of the city of Clarksville and for the Guy-Perkins School District in central Arkansas.