By Caitlin Sinett | Posted: Thu 3:53 PM, May 07, 2020 | Updated: Thu 4:43 PM, May 07, 2020
LEAD HILL, Ark. -- Andy Anderson sees the connection between one utility and another.
"It costs a lot of money to get the water to come out of that faucet. Nobody thinks about that," Anderson, the Ozark Mountain Regional Public Water Authority chairman, said.
The authority serves about 20,000 people in four north Arkansas counties. But maintaining that service is expensive.
"We had a repair yesterday. We had to repair a pump: $37,000. We had to rebuild the three filters here in the plant within the last nine months: $100,000 each," Anderson said.
Which is why a visit to rice mills in southern Arkansas flipped a switch in Anderson's mind: What if the water plant went solar?
"We're going to own it. Sell them electricity," said Scenic Hill Solar CEO Bill Halter.
Scenic Hill Solar, based in North Little Rock, agreed to spend $3 million to build its own solar farm that would fuel Ozark Mountain. The authority would pay Scenic Hill at a rate that will save the water plant about $85,000 a year in electric bills.
"And we're doing that based on the fact that we're entering into a long-term contract with Ozark Mountain," Halter said.
The deal won't lower customer bills, but savings could reduce water rate increases in years to come.
The Scenic Hill Solar CEO said the solar power plant will create cleaner energy and dozens of jobs in the construction phase alone.
"It is a shot in the arm to the local economy," Halter said.
The project still has to go through permitting and land needs to be purchased to build the solar farm.
But once the road is paved, it should only take a few months to build a connection between two utilities people depend on every day.
"We're excited to see it happen," Anderson said.
Scenic Hill said if all goes smoothly, they hope to have the project completed some time in 2021.