Arkansas Electric Cooperative Corp. (AECC) on Friday (Dec. 16) added another jolt of wind-powered electric to its growing renewable energy portfolio with the acquisition of two new Oklahoma wind projects that begin commercial operation before the end of 2016.
After a number of announcements from member electric cooperatives over the past 12 months, AECC said it has acquired access to 173 megawatts of additional wind capacity from the Drift Sand Wind and the Chisholm View II projects in Oklahoma that began commercial operations this month.
“Going back to the 1980s, AECC began investing in hydroelectric generation to provide more fuel diversity as a means to continue our mission of providing affordable and reliable wholesale power to Arkansas’ 17 local electric distribution cooperatives,” said AECC President and CEO Duane Highley. “Over the past five years, AECC has secured long-term power purchase agreements for wind, solar and biomass capacity. We are continuing to evaluate new wholesale energy opportunities.”
The Drift Sand Wind Farm is located in Grady County in central Oklahoma, while the Chisholm View II Wind Farm is located in Grant and Garfield counties near the Kansas border. The farms are owned and operated by Enel Green Power North America Inc. and are expected to generate around 720 million kilowatts (kWh) annually, which is the equivalent to the energy consumption needs of more than 58,000 U.S. households.
According to Highley, AECC has always worked to add diverse resources, like wind, to its generation portfolio as fuel diversity helps stabilize energy prices for electric cooperative members. This wind facility along with AECC’s other wind agreements, three existing run-of-the-river hydroelectric generating stations and contracts for solar and biomass energy illustrate the cooperative’s push for a diverse portfolio that provides reliable and affordable electricity.
RENEWABLE ENERGY ALMOST ONE-FIFTH OF COOP SOURCES
Altogether, the total amount of AECC’s hydroelectric, biomass, solar and wind resources exceeds 752 megawatts, which represents more than 18% of the cooperative’s generation and energy portfolio, said company spokesman Rob Roedel.
According to data released in August by the U.S. Energy Information Agency (EIA), renewable energy in the U.S. through the first half of 2016, including hydro-electric power, biomass, geothermal, wind, and solar, provided 16.9% percent of electricity generation. In all of 2015, that number was 13.7%.
That 2016 total is expected to climb higher as a number of large-scale wind and solar plants have are completed. There are also several large renewable projects scheduled for construction in 2017 and the years ahead, including the controversial $2 billion Plains & Eastern Clean Line that is expected to begin work in the second half of next year. That project will originate in the Oklahoma Panhandle and transverse across Arkansas into eastern Tennessee.
There have also been a number of smaller projects announced or completed in 2016 by several of AECC’s cooperatives and Today’s Power Inc., the wholly owned renewable energy subsidiary of the 17-member group. In February, First Electric Cooperative of Jacksonville entered into a service agreement with AECC’s Today’s Power to install a one-megawatt AC solar array. That 3,840-panel solar project is currently under construction near Benton. It will serve First Electric’s customers across portions of 17 counties in central and southeastern Arkansas.
In the spring, AECC, Aerojet Rocketdyne and Ouachita Electric Cooperative Corp. flipped the switch on 12-magawatt solar field at the 100-acre site in south Arkansas. That project, which included the installation of 151,200 solar panels, now powers Aerojet Rocketdyne’s 1,200-acre industrial plant in East Camden.
Later in June, Ozarks Electric Cooperative Corp. turned on the power to a new multimillion-dollar solar field east of Springdale will produce two million kilowatt hours of electricity, on average, annually. 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.
Three months later, Scenic Hill partnered with L’Oréal USA to develop two large-scale commercial solar projects in North Little Rock. Scenic Hill, led by former Lt. Gov. Bill Halter, will develop a 1.2 megawatt solar power plant, making it Arkansas’ third largest commercial solar array and the state’’ fourth largest solar project. The French perfume giant’s North Little Rock solar array will utilize nearly 4,000 solar panels mounted on single-axis tracking systems and will extend over 8 acres of land adjacent to L’Oréal’s manufacturing facility.
Arkansas Valley Electric Cooperative officially switched on a 500,000-watt solar array in late September. Arkansas Valley partnered with Today’s Power Inc. – a subsidiary of Arkansas Electric Cooperatives Corp. to build the array on 1.5 acres at the cooperative’s Van Buren District Office.
Entergy Arkansas has also announced plans to build an 81-megawatt photovoltaic solar energy generating facility in Arkansas County. That emissions-free solar energy facility, first announced in April 2015, 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.
PUBLIC SERVICE COMMISSION ACTIONS
The PSC also opened two recent dockets that could boost the growth of the state’s renewable energy sector, including a new metering proposal that could open the door for consumers to install rooftop solar panels to generate their own power.
Under ACT 827, the PSC is exercising its authority to establish new guidelines for net metering facilities that exceed the state’s current limits, and to establish a revised rate structure for those customers. In conjunction with the net metering docket, the PSC also opened companion Docket No. 16-028-U, which the AAEA officials called a “historic attempt” by the PSC to consider a full range of issues concerning renewable energy generation in Arkansas beyond net generation.
To date, there are already more than 40 companies and trade groups who are interested parties and intervenors to both PSC docket as state regulators will consider how to expand the state’s renewable energy rules over the next year. They include recommendations to adopt third-party generation rules to allow companies to procure power from onsite resources such as solar, storage, fuel cells or small-scale while still remaining connected to the Arkansas grid.