Ozarks Electric opens new solar field, first renewable energy field in Northwest Arkansas

by Rose Ann Pearce ([email protected]) 1,436 views 

Ozarks Electric Cooperative Corp. has turned to the power of the sun to offer its Arkansas customers renewable energy by offering subscriptions in a new multi million-dollar solar field east of Springdale.

The new field sits on five acres with 4,080 solar panels that produce two million kilowatt hours of electricity, on average, annually, according to the Fayetteville-based utility.

That’s enough to power up 150 to 200 homes. The electricity generated by the field will also make a major impact on the environment by reducing 1,720 tons of carbon dioxide annually, according to the utility. Further, OECC noted in a brochure about the project that 170,000 gallons of gasoline produce the same amount of carbon dioxide emissions and 319 cars emit the same amount of carbon dioxide in a single year.

The idea behind the project, called Ozarks Natural Energy, is to offer the benefits of renewable solar energy without the significant expense of investing, installing and maintaining the equipment as a lone property owner, said Troy Scarbrough, vice president of engineering and operations for Ozarks.

“It’s the first community subscription field in Arkansas,” Scarbrough said. “We have seen growing interest in renewable energy among our members through the years.”

With a decline in prices in recent years and the investment tax credits, the time seemed right to move ahead, he said.

Ozarks serves most of Washington County and portions of Madison, Franklin and Crawford counties in Arkansas as well as most of Adair County and a portion of Cherokee County in eastern Oklahoma.

The program is open to Arkansas members of the cooperative who can purchase up to 100 shares at $340 per share. Participating members receive a monthly credit on their electric bill based on purchased shares of the facility’s total month output. The shares went on sale June 1 and to date, about 120 have been purchased, Scarbrough said.

The project was subject to the regulatory process at the federal, state and local levels before the first panel was installed. The cost of the project was just over $3 million, Scarbrough said, not including the 12 acres the utility purchased. Part of the project includes a working relationship with the new Springdale School of Innovation located across U.S. 412 from the solar field.

“We’re highly engaged with all the high schools in our service area,” Scarbrough said, adding the Springdale school provided a unique opportunity. A laboratory in the new building provides a mockup of the solar facility, plus students will have 12 panels outside the building to use in their study of renewable solar energy.

“There is no direct benefit in the form of checks to customers,” Scarbrough said, but he also noted all customers will see some benefit in the form of a decrease in the wholesale power costs when the solar field produces excess power that goes onto the Ozarks power grid.

This isn’t the first alternative energy plan proposed in Washington County but the first to come on line. A wind energy farm was proposed months ago for a 300-acre west of Elm Springs. Although the tract was annexed into the city, opponents of the farm generated enough signatures on a petition to force a city election last March. Residents voted down the project.