by Kyle Massey
Move over, ducks and rice, and make room for Stuttgart as an Arkansas solar mecca.
The Arkansas County seat, which bills itself as the world capital for rice production and duck hunting, is partnering with Scenic Hill Solar of North Little Rock to power all city government operations with sun energy from a new 3.15-megawatt solar plant.
The project, at a site yet to be determined but inside the city limits, is expected to save the city $100,000 a year in utility bills and is the latest governmental solar project announced in the wake of the Solar Access Act passed by the Legislature in March to allow contracts with third-party solar equipment owners.
"This announcement in Stuttgart is exciting," Scenic Hill CEO and former Arkansas Lieutenant Gov. Bill Halter told Arkansas Business. "This means 100 percent renewable energy for government operations in the city," Halter said, noting that the project will comprise 7,000 photovoltaic panels. "This will save citizens tax dollars, lock in lower power prices for 30 years or more, contribute to local economic development and simultaneously improve the environment. It's a four-part win for governments and citizens."
The solar plant significantly reduce the carbon-use footprint of Stuttgart, which already had one of the state's pioneering business solar projects at Stratton Seed Co., which powers its 11-building operation with electricity from a 1-megawatt, roughly $1.5 million solar system that it owns. That array was the first net-metering project to gain state regulatory approval to generate more than 300 kilowatts of power. Arkansas County is also home to one of the state's largest utility arrays, the Entergy Arkansas-NextEra partnership's 78-megawatt plant on about 500 acres eight miles outside Stuttgart.
The carbon savings should be about the equivalent of driving 260 million fewer passenger car miles or eliminating the burning of over 116 million pounds of coal, according to Scenic Hill. The system is expected to be operational in the first quarter of next year.
"The city of Stuttgart will be producing clean, renewable energy for generations to come," Mayor David Earney said in a statement. David Leech of Stuttgart Economic Development added, "We decided to pursue making Stuttgart the solar capital of the southeastern United States. Scenic Hill Solar was the best option for us... We are continuing the development of projects in our region and are using solar to drive economic success. We are eager to see the benefits and impact on our community."
Halter called Stuttgart the rice and duck capital of the world, but also a prairie city with great sun exposure. "This kind of project is also a great hedge against any potential future price increase in power," he said. "The price can be locked down."