Tracking towards solar power
The city of Paragould is leading the pack among Arkansas communities for solar power, having recently completed a new 1.92 MW tracked solar project.
By Paul MacDonald
The state of Arkansas is in the middle of the pack when it comes to solar power generation among U.S. states, but one way to look at that is it means there is still plenty of potential for further solar development in the state—and that potential is turning into reality.
According to the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA), Arkansas ranked 30th among U.S. states in solar power generation at the end of 2021, with about 550 MW of installed solar power.
This past November, the mid-sized Arkansas community of Paragould, through Paragould Light Water & Cable (PLWC), did its own part for clean energy in the state, with the start-up of the city's 10-acre, 1.92 MW solar array.
Power company Evergy, which is based in the neighboring state of Missouri, has provided energy management services to PLWC for 18 years, and won a competitive bid to build the solar array for PLWC—and is now bringing clean energy to PLWC customers. Evergy, Inc., is an electric utility that serves about 1.6 million customers in Kansas and Missouri. In addition to its regulated utility divisions, it offers additional services through divisions like Evergy Energy Partners.
For more than 20 years, Evergy Energy Partners has taken their knowledge in electric generation to help clients from across the U.S. more efficiently manage their energy through hedging of market risks, asset optimization, scheduling, settlement services, trading and fuel procurement. More recently, they have expanded their renewable development strategies by building and managing solar projects.
In addition to producing green power, Evergy's goal with the project was to ensure that the energy generated from the new solar array was the lowest cost peak power resource in PLWC's energy portfolio—and it was able to achieve that.
|The Paragould project includes 4,692 bifacial Talesun solar panels, which generate 3.4 million kWh annually, the equivalent of providing over 200 homes with energy for one year.|
With more than 26,000 residents, the city of Paragould in northeastern Arkansas is committed to offering clean, affordable energy solutions to serve the needs of its residents—and encourage industry in the area. Back in 2020, Paragould embarked on their mission of becoming a more sustainable city by committing to add a renewable source to their energy portfolio. The RFP was put together by the city, working with independent consultants, GDS Associates. The project was awarded to Evergy, which, as noted, has a strong history with the community.
"We've had a long term relationship with Paragould for many years, helping them manage their power supply and demand," explained Brandon Sack, managing director for clean energy development at Evergy.
"Once we were awarded the RFP, we got started right away on negotiating a final agreement and doing preliminary engineering—Paragould was wanting to get the solar project online as soon as possible, and they were very diligent about getting the agreement in place and getting the work started," explained Sack.
Sack noted that it was a solid group effort, in that GDS offered its insights to PLWC and Evergy throughout the project. "I think all three parties—PLWC, GDS and Evergy—worked very well together. It was a good team effort on the part of everyone."
|The 10-acre solar project site is in an industrial park, not too far from the offices of Paragould Light Water & Cable. The land was donated by the Paragould Economic Development Commission, which also helped fund the solar project.|
Especially as the project was built during COVID times, and they ran into some extreme Arkansas weather at points in the construction schedule.
The array was constructed using bifacial solar panels in combination with Schletter single axis trackers—which were, in fact, the first Schletter trackers to be installed in the U.S. Installing bifacial panels with single-axis trackers will optimize the efficiency of the solar array over its lifetime.
The Paragould project marked the first time Evergy has worked with products from Schletter, which is well established in the U.S. with its fixed tilt systems. Evergy certainly had a comfort level in opting with Schletter and its single axis trackers. "We had many discussions with Schletter engineers about the Paragould project and their trackers—they are a solid product," said Sack.
The project includes 4,692 bi-facial Talesun solar panels, which generate 3.4 million kWh annually, the equivalent of providing over 200 homes with energy for one year. The project features SMA inverters.
|The state of Arkansas is in the middle of the pack when it comes to solar power generation among U.S. states, but one way to look at that is it means there is still plenty of potential for further solar development in the state—and that solar power potential is turning into reality with projects such as in Paragould.|
"With bi-facial panels, we get all the production off the front of the panels, and any power we can generate from the backside of the panels." Mounting them over grass will allow for an estimated 5 to 15 per cent more solar power generation by collecting both direct sunlight and reflected light from the ground.
Sack noted that all of the components used in the project were, of course, vetted by PLWC, to make sure they meet the utility's standards.
The 10-acre project site itself is in an industrial park, not too far from the offices of PLWC. The land was donated by the Paragould Economic Development Commission, which also helped fund the solar project. It also has good visibility, being at the intersection of Highway 358 and Highway 69, in the city.
Since it is in an industrial park, the site was fairly flat, "We really did not have much site prep work to do at all for the solar project," said Sack. "The site was selected for this reason—it was very well thought out."
A small parking lot was included as part of the project, and this was used as a laydown area during construction. "We had a nice graveled laydown and storage area that we were able to use."
|With more than 26,000 residents, the city of Paragould in northeastern Arkansas is committed to offering clean, affordable energy solutions, including solar power with building a 1.9 MW project, to serve the needs of its residents—and encourage industry in the area.|
In terms of the build itself, Sack said they started at one end of the site, and worked through to the other, carefully considering the schedule, and when posts, wiring, the tracking and panels were all to be installed.
Evergy is experienced at building energy projects, both small and big—including renewables. Evergy has been expanding wind energy production in the Midwest for more than a decade. It has 4,400 megawatts of owned and contracted wind generation from about 28 wind farms; its wind portfolio helps fuel Kansas' No. 2 state ranking for wind generation as a percentage of total generation.
It also has a number of solar projects under its belt, so the Paragould project is not its first rodeo, solar-wise.
"But as far as a solar project with a tracking system, it was our first rodeo," said Sack. "We have fixed tracking systems on the other solar projects, but this was our first tracking system, so it was good for all of us, in terms of learning. It's a solidly built and constructed solar project, and it's performing very well."
Throughout the project, everyone involved with the project, Evergy staff, sub-contractors and suppliers, all adhered to COVID protocols. "We were diligent and very on top of that," said Sack. "It was an outdoor site, so that was helpful."
In terms of the weather, they had some hot Arkansas summer weather in the middle of August, with temperatures exceeding 100 degrees, that briefly limited construction on the project. The previous spring, and the fall of 2021, they had some pretty wet weather.
"We seemed to get it all," says Sack. Field conditions got pretty muddy, but we built in some time into the construction schedule to deal with the weather. That's not where delays came into play, with the project."
"The delays came due to COVID-delivery constraints," he added, when they could not get all of their materials and components on time.
"It was all ordered in plenty of time, pre-COVID, to receive it, but there were delays in shipping."
Evergy then worked with PLWC on setting a modified project deadline.
"I think that was where our long term relationship with PLWC came into play—we communicated very closely with them about what was going on, and there was a full understanding that the situation was not within Evergy's control."
Evergy was certainly not alone in being affected by COVID-related delays—supply chain problems were an issue in 2021, and still continue to impact the industry. Many projects have had to modify their deadlines.
Throughout the project, high standards were set—and met, says Sack. Everyone involved wanted to make sure that although the schedule had to be adjusted, the end result was a well-built, safely built, solar project. "We wanted to make sure the project was done right."
A high level of communication is so important on a renewable energy project, says Sack, but that was especially so during COVID. "Communication is so vital and important between all the parties."
It's important to have all the physical pieces, from solar panels to tracking, for a project to be successful, but it's also important to have the communication pieces there, as well, he said. "We had very good project managers that really helped keep everyone informed on a very timely basis." It's critical to be open and upfront about any challenges that are being faced on a project, he added.
In the end, Evergy was able to deliver a quality project that will help offset Paragould's energy costs by providing affordable power to add to PLWC's overall energy portfolio. Evergy has structured the agreement as a Build/Transfer Agreement for PLWC, and the city of Paragould will now be able offset their energy costs with clean and affordable energy, a win-win for all parties involved.
Sack said that while other communities in the region are looking at setting up solar projects, Paragould is one of the first to actually move ahead with a project. "I think that speaks volumes to their vision of the future, and where they think things are headed moving forward."
Evergy recently wrapped up work on another city-owned solar project, this one in Missouri, a 10.8 MW project for the city of West Plains. It's the state's largest municipal solar farm, and is built on a former landfill in the community.
Sack said that the Paragould and West Plains projects reinforce that when communities are looking to diversify their power portfolio, they don't have to be part of some massive solar project, hundreds of acres in size, though that can also be a good fit.
They can do it, essentially, in their own backyard. "It can be accomplished right inside your community."