Bald Knob officials continue to explore possibility of solar power for city | News

Bald Knob officials continued to look into the possibility of solar power for the city this week.

Mayor Barth Grayson said since he took office Jan. 1, 2019, he has been interested in learning more about the city using solar energy. Representatives from Scenic Hill Solar from North Little Rock have been talking to the Bald Knob City Council for the last couple of years, he said, with the talks being about putting a solar farm on three acres.

“I have always been pro-solar,” Grayson said. “I think it’s a progressive thing. It’s not just progressive now, it is beginning to be the norm. COVID kind of slowed things down, of course.”

At Tuesday night’s City Council meeting, Scenic Hill Solar Chief Executive Officer Bill Halter spoke shared information about the company and some of its other projects. Halter said Scenic Hill Solar is the largest solar power developer in Arkansas.

“We only work on projects for cities, counties, educational institutions and businesses. We don’t do residential solar,” he said. “We also don’t do the large utility scale solar that you may have heard of that is supplying Entergy Arkansas or supplying the co-ops.

“You should think of us as building power plants that range anywhere from three acres of modules up to 160 acre modules. We are completely agnostic about whether we own the power plant or our clients do, so we found that for most cities, the best thing is for Scenic Hill, for at least the first five years, to own the power plants and simply sell cities electricity.”

Halter said there are generous federal tax incentives for solar power plants and those benefits could be taken advantage of as a tax-exempt entity.

Asked by Grayson whether there was a five-year plan, 10-year plan or 15- to 20-year plan, Halter said Scenic Hill can give the city an option to purchase the power plant the sixth year.

“It’s five years in to maximize those tax credits,” he said. “We will typically with our clients have contracts up to 28 years in length. The longer the contract, the better we can make the financial terms for you because what we are doing is spending money on the front end – not asking the city or the school district or anybody to spend any money – and then we monetize those tax credits and sell the electricity, and that’s how we get a return on our capital. So the longer that contract, the better the financial gain can be to you.”

City Council member Johnny Hodges asked Halter how many solar panels are on an acre and he said “an acre is going to be about 200 kilowatts of electricity; round numbers that is going to be about 500 modules.”

Halter mentioned solar projects in Stuttgart and North Little Rock that Scenic Solar has been involved with “at the L’Oreal and Maybelline facility.”

“We built 17 power plants to date, 16 in Arkansas and one in Kentucky for L’Oreal,” he said. “We have six more under construction right now and then we have 20 more under contract, so the business is booming.

“There is a reason for this and I think it is important for the council to know if I had come in and proposed this to the City Council six or seven years ago, I wouldn’t have been able to make a proposal that would have been economic for you. It wouldn’t have saved you any money, whereas today we can come to you and say, ‘OK, Scenic Hill will build the power plant. We will own it. We will operate it. You don’t have to worry about a thing. We will sell you electricity at a lower price than you are currently paying to Entergy Arkansas and you will save money in the process.’”

Halter said a power plant that would be “optimally sized for the city” would basically over the next 30 years save the city “about $600,000, without the city paying back.”

Halter said his company is currently working with Bank OZK building a facility for them that will completely power its headquarters and 40 bank locations throughout central Arkansas and Central Arkansas Water is also a Scenic Hill Solar client.

“We are building a power plant that you will actually drive past. It is located on [U.S. Highway] 67/167 just before you get to the welcome to Cabot sign,” he said. “It is going to occupy 40 acres there. That is under construction and we will conclude that by the end of this year.”

Halter offered to give the council members a tour of the L’Oreal plant so they could understand how the solar power plant worked.

If Scenic Hill Solar does get to build a plant in Bald Knob, Halter said it would produce almost 100 percent of the electricity consumed in the city. “It would produce 20 million kilowatt hours over the life of the power plant and then it would provide the environmental equivalent of removing about 35 million passenger car miles from the highway. That is how much CO2 reduction that would be accomplished by the power plant.”

Halter said the company would propose 6.4 cents per kilowatt hour as the price it would charge Bald Knob. “It would go up about 3 percent a year for the duration of the contract. On average across the United States the last 65 years, electricity prices have gone up by about 3.4 percent a year and your bill has actually gone up significantly more than that.”

Halter will be return to Bald Knob to speak to the planning commission Thursday at 6 p.m. at City Hall.