The switch will soon be flipped on 151,200 solar panels that will provide electricity to the growing defense industry operations in East Camden. The 12-megawatt solar field – the largest in Arkansas – will generate electricity equivalent to powering 2,400 homes.
Officials with Aerojet Rocketdyne, the Arkansas Electric Cooperative Corporation (AECC) and Ouachita Electric Cooperative Corporation (OECC) will gather March 31 at the 100-acre site in south Arkansas for the formal commissioning.
The project began in September 2015, and according to company officials, the construction supported between 250 and 350 direct and indirect jobs, with a financial impact of more than $25 million, officials said. The facility, owned by Nashville, Tenn.-based Silicon Ranch, will supply power to Aerojet Rocketdyne’s 1,200 acre plant in East Camden. Aerojet produces propulsion motors for Lockheed Martin’s Patriot missile system in the industrial park.
Excess solar energy will be released to AECC and used in the wholesale power market.
“We are proud to report the testing period that began at the end of November has produced zero power anomalies, and with the unusually sunny Arkansas winter we have been witness to the exciting potential solar has in Arkansas,” Gary Vaughan, Aerojet Rocketdyne director of Production Operations, Camden, said in a statement. “Silicon Ranch and their construction partner, McCarthy Building Companies, produced a world-class solar facility that will benefit the company and the region today, and in the future.”
Ouachita Electric Cooperative, which serves Highland Industrial Park, assisted in the project by providing technical support in power production and delivery.
“Ouachita Electric Cooperative works to increase the quality of life for our members and their communities,” said Mark Cayce, general manager of Ouachita Electric Cooperative. “Our board of directors and employees are diligent in our efforts to be advocates for rural Arkansas by keeping electricity rates affordable and assisting with economic growth.”
Matt Kisber, president and CEO of Silicon Ranch, said construction of the Highland Park project was made possible by the participation and support of OECC and AECC.
“This innovative partnership benefits electric cooperative members by providing predictable energy cost and contributing to the strong economic growth in the Camden area,” Duane Highley, president and CEO for AECC, said in the statement. “AECC is constantly evaluating energy sources to ensure that our 17 retail distribution cooperatives and their more than 1.2 million members have reliable electricity that is affordable.”
The East Camden project is one of many renewable energy projects being developed across the state in the solar, wind and biomass sectors. In April, Entergy Arkansas announced plans to build an 81-megawatt photovoltaic solar energy generating facility in Arkansas County. That emissions-free solar energy facility is not expected to be connected to Entergy Arkansas’ transmission grid until the end of the decade.
If approved by the state Public Service Commission, the Entergy project would surpass the Camden solar project in size.
The Solar Energy Industries Association reported March 9 that 7,260 megawatts of solar power were installed in the U.S. during 2015. The addition brought total U.S. solar power to 27.4 gigawatts, or enough to power 5.4 million homes. For the first time ever, solar topped natural gas capacity additions, with solar supplying 29.4% of all new electric generating capacity brought on-line in the U.S. in 2015.