Entergy Arkansas has gained regulatory approval for the biggest solar energy complex in the state, a new 250-megawatt project near Osceola in Mississippi County.
Lightsource bp, a subsidiary of bp, will develop the project on about 2,100 acres, big enough to power more than 40,000 homes with an array more than double the size of any of the state’s operating solar generation sites.
The utility, the state’s largest power company and a subsidiary of Entergy Corp. of New Orleans, will rely on the site to deliver electricity for the new U.S. Steel mill going up nearby. Entergy has dubbed the project Driver Solar.
It will add “highly economic renewable generation to our portfolio, further diversifying our energy mix in a way that meets our customers’ evolving expectations,” said Entergy Arkansas President and CEO Laura Landreaux. “It is a key contribution toward business expansion in northeast Arkansas, and we are excited to be a part of it.”
Landreaux called it a privilege “to work closely with U.S. Steel Corp. to develop sustainable solutions to help them meet their objective of producing steel using renewable electricity while simultaneously lowering rates over the long term for all 728,000-plus Entergy Arkansas customers.”
The site is along Arkansas Highway 61 near Carson Lake Road and Arkansas Highway 198, just south of Osceola, and will be adjacent to both U.S. Steel’s Big River Steel facility and the recently announced $3 billion expansion. Lightsource bp has completed development and permitting of the solar field and will build the facility under a build-transfer agreement with Entergy Arkansas, the utility said in a news release. The project is expected to be completed in late 2024.
U.S. Steel Senior Vice President, Chief Strategy and Sustainability Officer Richard Fruehauf said the project illustrates the importance of partnerships. It “not only helps us meet our robust sustainability goals, but it will also help us deliver sustainable steel solutions for our customers. The renewable energy generated will power the production of verdeX TM, our advanced sustainable steel product, which is composed of up to 90% recycled steel content, as well as other products produced at our Big River Works facility.”
Together with their joint venture partner bp, Lightsource bp has been delivering renewable projects for businesses and communities since 2010, the release said. The company was recently named the world’s largest solar developer by Mercom Capital Partners, and in November bp announced a landmark procurement deal with U.S.-based First Solar Inc. of Tempe, Arizona, for 5.4 gigawatts of First Solar modules. First Solar produces American-made solar panels at its fully vertically integrated manufacturing complex in Ohio, and the Driver project will exclusively use its ultra-low carbon thin-film modules. The facility will employ solar trackers manufactured by Array Technologies of Albuquerque, New Mexico.
“The Driver Solar project is another demonstration of how solar can power our country’s industry with cost-competitive, clean, dependable electricity,” said Kevin Smith, Lightsource bp’s CEO of the Americas. “Arkansas’ largest solar project will help build American-made sustainable steel, as well as create hundreds of U.S. jobs for construction and across the supply chain.”
Landreaux said, “With their solar industry leadership and commitment to supporting domestic manufacturing, we couldn’t be more excited about the opportunity to work with Lightsource bp.”
Driver Solar is expected to provide between 350 and 400 jobs during construction, using local workers and subcontractors. Upon completion, Entergy Arkansas plans to employ outside services for site maintenance, such as land management and vegetation control, operations, office rent, team payroll and other items likely to have a local impact. Local restaurants and stores may also benefit indirectly from the infusion of construction workers and activity, company officials said.
Property taxes associated with Entergy Arkansas’ ownership of the project are conservatively estimated at $1.2 million for Mississippi County per year over the life of the project, or roughly $36 million in 30 years.
“Driver Solar enables U. S. Steel to grow its business in Arkansas, meet their sustainability goals, and further demonstrates how the state of Arkansas and Entergy Arkansas support companies that provide high-paying jobs grow in the state,” Arkansas Commerce Secretary Mike Preston said in a statement. Entergy Arkansas already operates one of the cleanest electric generation portfolios in the country.
That generation is largely emission-free due to significant amounts of nuclear, hydro, and solar generation in the portfolio. In addition to its solar-sourced power, Entergy Arkansas owns or operates two carbon-free nuclear generating units in Russellville, which supply 60% of the company’s generating needs.
The utility’s clean generation push will continue. To meet customer demands set forth in its Integrated Resource Plan, Entergy Arkansas expects to replace “a portion of our older natural-gas fired resources in coming years and all our coal-fired resources by 2030 with mainly renewable resources that will deliver needed emission-free electric generation to meet the load Earlier this year, the utility called for proposals to create 1,000 megawatts of wind and solar resources.