Officials break ground on largest municipal solar project in Arkansas

Photo: City of Fayetteville Arkansas Government

Officials on Monday broke ground on the state’s largest solar power system on municipal land, and the only system in Arkansas with onsite utility-scale storage.

The work comes three months after Fayetteville City Council members voted unanimously to approve a 20-year agreement with Ozarks Electric Cooperative and Today’s Power Inc. to install solar panels at the city’s two wastewater treatment facilities.

The project is a major step toward Fayetteville’s goal of running completely on clean energy, as it’s expected to raise clean energy consumption by city facilities from 16 percent to 72 percent.

The solar panels will be used to completely power the Noland Wastewater Treatment Facility and the Westside Water Treatment Facility, which are the city’s two largest electricity-consuming accounts. Combined, the two plants make up about 67 percent of the overall electricity used by city-owned accounts.

Peter Nierengarten, the city’s sustainability director, said the system is projected to save the city $6 million in energy costs over the 20-year period, and will see a return on the investment in just over three years.

Each treatment plant will include an array of solar photovoltaic panels capable of generating 5 megawatts of electricity and a battery storage facility. Any excess electricity will be sent to the electrical grid for use by Ozarks Electric, or relayed to the battery storage facility, which can store 12 megawatt hours of electricity. Ozarks Electric will use stored electricity to provide power to its members during peak-consumption times like summer.

Today’s Power will provide full operations and maintenance of the solar arrays and energy storage facilities, leasing the necessary acreage from the city. Ozarks Electric will upgrade and maintain existing electricity connections at the sites. Today’s Power will own 99 percent of the solar systems, and Fayetteville will own 1 percent. Today’s Power will own 100 percent of the storage systems.

Generation is expected to begin in June and storage completed in July.

“Climate change is a very serious threat and a significant economic opportunity for our City and our nation,” said Fayetteville Mayor Jordan. “Fayetteville is committed to combat climate change by supporting a low-carbon economy and creating good jobs in energy efficiency and renewable energy.”