By Max Brantley
Scenic Hill Solar, the company headed by former Lt. Gov. Bill Halter, has struck a deal with Clarksville Light and Water to build a solar power plant in the city that will supply about a quarter of the utility's power needs.
The company will build a solar generating facility on about 40 acres on Main Street, visible from Exit 55 of Interstate 40. The 6.5-megawatt plant will be the state's third-largest solar generator and is expected to be online by mid-2018.
Clarksville's power currently comes primarily from a contract for power generated by a hydro plant in Batesville and a consortium of Oklahoma municipal power companies. From a release:
“The effort is designed to position Clarksville, Arkansas as a town with the quality of life of a small town, but one that can think and do big things,” said Clarksville Light & Water Company General Manager John Lester.
“We are delighted that this project will save our customers approximately $500,000 annually while growing our existing renewable generation supply portfolio with what will be our first locally-based power generation resource.”
“During those times of day when both our hydro and solar resources are producing power, Clarksville will be producing half its power from renewable energy sources,” continued Lester. “We’re making Clarksville an example that small towns can be prepared to take advantage of what the future holds for all of us.”
Scenic Hill is leasing property for the plant from the power company and the city will purchase power under a 30-year agreement. It's described as a $10 million economic development project. The release also touts the environmental benefits — a reduction of 215,000 metric tons of carbon emissions over the life of the plant against burning 229 million pounds of coal.
Said Halter in a prepared statement:
This leading-edge project proves that electric utilities can simultaneously lower costs for their customers, provide clean and sustainable energy, and provide economic development for their communities. Clarksville Light & Water Company is leading the way into the 21st Century Economy for their community.
Clarksville is using profits from electricity sales to invest in a fiber optic network that is expected to have multi-gigabit speeds. The city hopes to use that network to take advantage of Internet evolution. Said Lester: "Combined, the solar and telecommunications projects are creating an infrastructure in Clarksville for the 21st Century economy.”
This is forward thinking stuff, it seems to me. Let Attorney General Leslie Rutledge and the chamber of commerce keeping fighting for air pollution to protect the coal industry. Others are looking at different ways of doing things. Imagine if Little Rock got behind a fiber optic network and, who knows?, municipal WiFi. First, though, we need to improve that concrete gulch through the middle of town so people can blast out of here faster to Bryant, Cabot, Conway and Clarksville.
UPDATE: Funny. Just after posting this I got a laudatory e-mail on the project from Glen Hooks of the Arkansas Sierra Club.
"Clean energy production is happening all across our country, and seeing it blossom all over Arkansas is nothing short of exhilarating. Constructing projects like this one in Clarksville mean cleaner air, better health, smaller utility bills, and good-paying jobs for Arkansans.
"Today's announcement is further evidence that clean energy is on the rise, while our country is transitioning away from dirty coal and other fossil fuels. Cities across Arkansas—including places like Camden, Stuttgart, North Little Rock, Benton, Ozark, and Bearden—are leading the way.
"The Sierra Club applauds Clarksville today for embracing clean energy, and we look forward to seeing more Arkansas communities make this smart choice in the future. "