Solar panel farm work forges ahead

EnergyLink employee Murray Stipe (in backhoe) deposits gravel around the concrete base pad for the circuit breaker and metering cabinet at the PLWC solar panel farm at the intersection of Highways 69 and 358. EnergyLink employee Evan Smith (standing on pad) said the gravel is to build up a slope around the pad.

Construction is underway at Paragould Light, Water and Cable’s new solar panel located at the corner of Highways 69 and 358.

Work crews from Columbia, Mo.-based contractor EnergyLink have been at the site, pouring concrete for transformers and a ground-mounted single axis tracker for the 4,680 panels to be installed in the 10-acre array.

“The panels will track the sun as it travels from east to west,” explained EnergyLink construction manager Luke Dangelser. “That’s the single axis.”

When finished, the 10-acre array is expected to provide 1.5 megawatts (MW) of power to the city, enough to power 280 homes. There are no current plans to use the whole 28 acres for solar panels. But were they all to be used, up to 4.2 MW could be available.

The amount could power up to 784 homes, were all 28 acres devoted to solar panels.

PLWC had 12,064 residential electrical customers as of the end of January. As currently envisioned, the array will therefore power 2.3 percent of those customers, or 6.5 percent were the entire 28 acres used.

“It’s not much,” said utility Chief Operations Officer Brett Bradford on April 16, “but it’s a start.”

Utility CEO Darrell Phillips said any power from the solar panel would be used first, before any other source of electrical power, to supply customer needs. Doing so is anticipated to lower utility expenditures on those other sources of electricity.

Surprisingly, the plant is not expected to cost PLWC any significant amount of money. It received a $2 million grant from the Economic Development Corporation (EDC) of Paragould, to help cover the cost of the plant’s construction. EDC also donated the 28-acre plot on which the farm is to be built.

Anything in excess of $2 million is to come from utility assets. However, the aim is to keep the cost at or below the grant amount. The utility is expected to incur no added debt to build the array. The array is expected to be completed no later than July 31.

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