Solar park near Lincoln will serve two cities, two districts

LINCOLN — Ozarks Electric Cooperative and Today’s Power Inc., flipped the switch June 25 on a new 2.7-megawatt, multi-industry solar park that will serve Lincoln and Elkins school districts and the cities of Lincoln and Springdale.

“This is huge for Lincoln,” said Mary Ann Spears, superintendent of Lincoln Consolidated School District. “We’re projected to save 50 grand the first year and a million dollars over the life of the project. I’m pumped.”

Spears, who attended the Flip the Switch ceremony, said the district spends $12,000 each month in electrical costs for the high school alone. The savings earned by using solar power will provide more money to spend on students and teachers, she said.

In addition, Spears said the solar park, which is located on 25 acres near Lincoln off Wedington Blacktop Road, will provide a place for field trips and other educational opportunities.

According to a news release about the project, the Ozarks Natural Energy solar park is expected to produce 4 million kilowatt-hours in its first year of service, including about seven megawatts of energy storage that Ozarks Electric will use to reduce wholesale demand charges.

Participants will have a separate meter to allow the energy produced to be credited to each customer under a solar power service agreement.

The solar park is estimated to save the participating entities more than $3 million over 20 years, the news release said.

Mitchell Johnson, president and CEO of Ozarks Electric, said the solar park is a result of the cooperative’s business model.

“Our history will continuously be to improve the quality of life for our members in the communities we serve, and I think this project is a perfect example of that,” Johnson said at the ceremony.

“This facility, to be honest, is a perfect example of how we stay true to our past but apply today’s technology and provide an innovative solution to create a sustainable win for everybody involved. It’s the right thing at the right time and it’s for the right reasons.”

Johnson said to the best of his knowledge, Ozarks Go’s participation will result in it being the first telecommunications company in Arkansas that will receive 100% of its energy consumption from a renewable resource.

Michael Henderson, CEO of Today’s Power, said he’s seen more transformation in his industry in the past seven or eight years than he saw in the first 30 years of his career with the electric cooperative.

Henderson noted that Ozarks Electric is putting this infrastructure in place knowing that in the future, by 2030, 50% of transportation will be with electric vehicles.

“That’s going to be a big change in how we use energy and how you serve your members,” Henderson said.

Now, people go to a gas station and fill up their vehicles with gasoline.

In the future, Henderson said, 80% of electric vehicles will be charged at the home.

“That means that transmission of those dollars, that is currently going to the petroleum industry, will come through the electric industry. Think about that, if you will. Electricity is significantly cheaper to operate.”

This means, Henderson said, the cooperative will be able to lower the cost to its members and improve quality of life.

Ozarks Electric is a member-owned electric cooperative serving more than 79,000 meters across nine counties in Northwest Arkansas and northeast Oklahoma. Today’s Power is a subsidiary of Arkansas Electric Cooperatives.

Lynn Kutter may be reached by email at [email protected]