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West Memphis going green with solar energy farm pact

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Clean energy comes to West Memphis with Big Cypress agreement

[email protected] The West Memhpis City Council and the West Memphis Utility Commission have made moves to ensure city residents will continue to enjoy low energy rates while at the same time reducing the city’s carbon footprint.

To secure low electric rates for 30 years in a public-private solar energy purchase deal, the two municipal boards gave the green light to going green. The move came during the last city council meeting in April.

Big Cypress Solar planned to locate on an undisclosed 900-acre site in the northern part of Crittenden County. The agreement provided a chance for the city to step down from its coa-lfired power plants as White Bluff and Independence decommission in a few years. West Memphis Utilities General Manager Todd Pedersen told city council the proposed city share in the 180megawatt solar energy project a once in a lifetime opportunity.

'This is unique. These opportunities do not come along everyday, and to get one in the nearby community is very beneficial to us, ' said Pedersen. 'The key is keeping our rates where they are now so our citizens can continue to afford them. We can do this without a bond issue.'

City Treasurer Charlie Suiter wanted to know the impact on city utility customer rates. The city already boasts the secondlowest power rates in the state.

'Cost wise, it's within one percent of what we are doing right now,' said Pedersen. 'I can take this facility in our costs and never have to touch retail rates. That's the key, bringing in economics that will stabilize rates for our customers long term our customers and doing it environmentally friendly. It's because of the economies of scale, this one is very large and therefore eco-

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nomical.'

The deal is with a subsidiary of Next Era Energy.

The city current power supply contract is with a different division of the same company.

'It's the same parent company,' said Pedersen. 'Its supposed to come online by 2024, and we'll receive power beginning in June 2026. 'They are the worlds largest provider of renewables energy, solar and wind. They own Florida Power and Light. This is a huge reliable company.'

Both the Utility Commission and the City Council approved a 30-year power purchase agreement with Big Cypress Solar.

Next Era Director of Development Chelsea Robbens provided an overview of the solar facility construction and the company's capital outlay for construction. The accord obligated the company to build the solar array and West Memphis Utilities to draw 20 megawatts of energy as it's produced.

'We are very excited to partner on this 180megawatt solar facility,' said Robben. 'Strong partners are necessary to do this and that's why we are excited to be working with West Memphis. It's about $190 million investment.

It's 300 construction jobs to build the facility and a few jobs to operate it. Outside those jobs we will need road improvements and you'll see indirect investment into the community through hotels, restaurants, groceries, and gas.'

Councilman James Holt commended the proactive planning by the utility as coal generation has became more unfeasible.

'Many years ago a mayor took initiative to buy into a coal plant to keep costs down,' said Holt. 'We are seeing here the same opportunity.'

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