Members of three local organizations dedicated to expanding access to solar power will break ground on the state’s first community solar center on Friday, Nov. 20.
The 1 acre Bearskin Solar Center in Scott is also the first of many planned community solar centers in Arkansas, said Bill Ball, CEO of Stellar Sun, an Arkansas renewable energy services company and one of the project’s organizers. He said two others are currently in the works, but could not yet provide details.
A community solar center allows customers to buy into an off-site system and utilize solar power without having solar panels on their property or the responsibility of maintenance and upkeep. Energy produced by home or business owners of a solar array is credited to offset their existing energy bills.
“We want it to be fair, equitable and competitive,” Ball said. “We can put it in cheaper than on a roof.”
He said community solar centers are a solution for those who want to utilize solar power but are unable to access it, explaining that 50 percent to 60 percent of homes or businesses do not have adequate solar access on their roof.
Bearskin, which is expected to be fully constructed by the end of 2015, can accommodate a total capacity of approximately 150 kW of solar array that will be individually owned by Entergy utility customers. Individual arrays will vary in size, but the first phase will produce enough energy to offset average usage for 15 homes.
So far, about one-third of the available area at the Bear Skin Solar Center is spoken for, Ball said. Currently, it is only available to Entergy customers, and quotes can be requested here.
According to a report published by the U.S. Department of Energy National Renewable Energy Laboratory in April 2015, shared solar power could account for up to half of the overall solar market nationwide by 2020.
Over the past several years, the cost of solar-power infrastructure has declined, Ball said, making it more accessible and affordable for consumers.
Initial setup fees for consumers buying into the Bearskin center can be $3.25 to $3.65 per watt for residential properties, he explained. A 30 percent Residential Renewable Energy Tax Credit is typically available for homeowners with a solar array located on their properties, but Ball said the Internal Revenue Service has issued specific rulings allowing customers that have purchased community solar arrays to also claim the credit. He said this is explained to customers seeking to buy into the Bearskin project.
Ball said buying into solar energy is a good long-term investment, which can pay for itself in eight years for large-scale commercial projects and 13 years for residential systems. It also has a lower environmental impact.
The Bearskin Solar Center is possible, Ball said, thanks to the Arkansas Public Service Commission’s 2013 order allowing meter aggregation for net metering customers. Meter aggregation refers to combining electrical loads from multiple meters that are linked to a single customer.
The project’s organizers include Stellar Sun, Arkansas Renewable Energy Association and Arkansas Affiliate of Interfaith Power and Light. The organizations encourage energy independence and environmental sustainability through alternative, renewable energy sources.
The Nov. 20 ground breaking will feature remarks from Ball, along with AREA chairman Frank Kelly and Rev. Stephen Copley, board chairman for Arkansas Interfaith Power and Light. Representatives from the governor’s office, the Arkansas Public Service Commission and U.S. Sen. Tom Cotton’s office.
Main photo: Solar panels at Dale Bumpers White River National Wildlife Refuge in St. Charles. This is what the Bearskin Community Solar Center will look like once constructed. Photo courtesy of Bill Ball.