Going green in Crittenden County
solar energy farm projects advancing in community
By JOHN RECH
West Memphis and Crittenden County accelerated in renewable energy as two solar farm developments launch in the area. West Memphis City Council approved an energy supply agreement with the Big Cypress Solar to be located on the northern part of Crittenden County during its final meeting in April. Last week the city took a second step and bought a bigger energy supply and expanded capacity from Big Cypress Solar. The deal delivered 85 percent of the city’s electrical needs starting in four years and leveled energy rates to its customers through 2039. Mayor Marco McClendon moved forward endorsing another solar farm known as the West Memphis Solar Project in a May 7 open letter.
The Big Cypress deal moved the city further toward renewable energy making it the first city in Arkansas to lean on solar for 85 percent of it electric
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needs. Last month city leaders approved a 30 year deal for 20 megawatts starting in 2026 going to 2056. The city picked up the additional energy from Big Cypress Solar through an offer from its sister company, NextEra Energy. NextEra holds the city’s current power supply contract.
City Utilities General Manager Told Pedersen told both the utilities commission and city council the details of the newest offer last Thursday. Both boards quickly approved the additional agreement.
“Because of our prior relationship with NextEra, we were offered the 120 MW of capacity out of that same facility, Big Cypress Solar beginning in 2024 and go to 2039,” said Pedersen. “We currently have to supply our load plus 12 percent, about 95 megawatts supply.” Pedersen told the boards now was the time to strike a deal. The city owns portions of two coal fired plants scheduled to cease operations over environmental impact concerns. The city needed to replace that energy supply and the price was right to insure level rates for years into the future.
“I am asking that we buy this out,” said Pedersen. “White Bluff goes offline in 2028; that’s 1600 MW of capacity going away. In 2030 1600 more megawatts of capacity is going away as Independence closes down. How often are 180 MW solar facilities built in your own back yard? We can be very proud if this gets approved as 85 percent of its energy needs will be met by locally generated renewable energy. That’s amazing. It’s making a transition to a world past coal.”
Both the utilities commission and city council unanimously approved the additional Big Cypress Solar deal as the company shopped for land in the vicinity west of Interstate 55 near Turrell.
The next day Mayor Marco McClendon wrote his endorsement for another, even larger local solar farm project development named the West Memphis Solar Project by Entergy (see story on Page 2). Green energy costs have dropped to parity with non-renewable sourced power generation. Entergy planned on collecting solar along Interstate 40 and Highway 147 between Lehi and Vincent adjacent to the city’s Interstate industrial mega-site. The clean energy output could serve as an additional inducement to draw a high energy consuming manufacturer to mega-site. The city had already ceded energy delivery to Entergy at the certified shovel ready industrial site.
“The growth of largescale solar energy has the potential to diversify, boost and grow economies across the state’s counties,” wrote McClendon. “Depending on the size of the solar projects counties could see hundreds of thousands of dollars in extra revenue every year.”
The Quorum Court was set to hear revised code and zoning regulations allowing for contemporary solar facilities in the county during its monthly meeting next week.
“New energy projects are already in the works, meaning Arkansas will soon begin to enjoy the great attributes of solar energy,” stated McClendon. “Entergy’s West Memphis Solar Project, the largest announced solar project in the state, will harness Arkansas’ own sunshine to create clean, renewable energy, good jobs and economic benefits for Crittenden County and the entire region. As Arkansas embraces an energy transition, our local communities stand to greatly benefit.”