Flipping the switch

Ted Qualls and Len Nall ‘flip the switch’ at the Lake City solar field Friday. The solar field will supply energy for the Delta Farms and Southland Gin facilities.

JONESBORO — The state’s first agricultural solar project combining two different solar technologies is located in Craighead County, and officials were in Lake City on Friday to flip the switch.

The project, which cost approximately $3 million, uses both fixed-tilt and single-axis tracking solar panels plus on-site battery energy storage, and operates on 14.59 acres of land off Arkansas 18.

The solar field will provide clean energy for both the Delta Farms and Southland Gin facilities, according to a news release issued Friday.

The system is expected to result in energy and operational savings over 20 years, and it was developed by Southland Gin, Delta Farms, Craighead Electric Cooperative and Today’s Power, Inc.

“This intriguing and innovative project has been under development since the last quarter of 2019, and we are excited to start to generate and harvest energy from the sun,” said Len B. Nall of Southland Gin and Delta Farm. “Directly impacting our farms with positive economic development, the completion of these solar facilities is a testament to our sustainability initiatives which help us preserve our most precious resources as farmers – air, land, and water.”

Today’s Power Inc. President Michael Henderson said Friday that Nall was the one who first envisioned the project.

“It was Len Nall’s idea, he happens to be on the board of directors for Craighead Electric Cooperative, and had access to information about our solar projects,” Henderson said. “That gave him the insight to investigate solar.”

Henderson said once Nall looked into the economics of solar power, he discovered it would work well for Delta Farms and Southland Gin.

“I think solar power is a great resource for the Delta portion of the state,” Henderson said. “You can take marginal crop land and turn it into a solar field, which adds infrastructure and a tax base in a part of the state that needs the economic growth.”

Combined, the total solar system capacity is 2 megawatts paired with 6 megawatt-hours of battery storage.

1.2 MW of the project consists of solar modules mounted on a fixed-tilt system owned by Delta Farms, Inc. This portion or the project is capable of producing around 1,760,000 kWh annually.

The other part of the project consists of an 882 kW sun tracking system or a single-axis solar tracking system that generates approximately 15 percent more electricity than stationary mounts for peak solar exposure.

The sun tracking portion of the project is able to produce, on average, 1,420,000 kWh which will be leased to Southland Gin from Today’s Power. In total this system is made up of 2,352, 375W panels.

If the electricity generated by the arrays exceeds demand, the electricity will be net metered to the Craighead Electric system or saved in battery storage systems on site.

One of the unique things about the project is that it benefits all entities involved, Henderson said.

“This project is designed to be an asset to all parties, not just a load loss for the cooperative,” Henderson said.

In the summer, the cooperative can draw from the stored power during peak times, and in the fall, when the gin needs the energy, it can use the power.

Brian Duncan, CEO of Craighead Electric Cooperative said that the project demonstrates how integrated solar and batteries together can supply dischargeable electricity into the grid when needed.

“We regard this project not only as a victory for Southland Gin, Delta Farms and Craighead Electric Cooperative, but for our entire membership,” he added.

Work on the project began in late November 2019, with construction of the system beginning in December and commissioning beginning in February. The project was completed on schedule and a complete interconnection was established in May under a multilateral contract between Southland Gin and Delta Farms, Craighead Electric Cooperative and Today’s Power, Inc.

“This project is especially rewarding to me because I was raised in this community and grew up farming as a member of Craighead Electric,” Henderson stated in the release.

“All things considered, this project will help improve the quality of life for residents in Northeast Arkansas.”