Solar Farm to be 'economic asset'

By BUSTER WOLFE,

The state’s largest solar power plant, a $100 million facility that is located in Sumrall, generated words of praise last Friday from government officials and representatives of companies involved in the construction and operation of the facility.

The 215,000-panel solar farm went online to Mississippi Power Company on June 27. Former U.S. Sen. Trent Lott was the featured speaker during the dedication ceremonies.

“This is the beginning and it will continue to grow,” he said. “There are a lot of important things to like about this project. You have employed local people. You have employed veterans. This new, modern, innovative technology is located right here in Lamar County and it is a technology that we can benefit from.”

The importance of the facility was outlined last week when Mississippi Power Renewal Projects Manager Tony Smith talked about its place in the company’s energy future.

“This keeps us in the forefront of renewable energy as the largest renewable partner in the state, solar particularly,” he said. “So we’re proud of this. We’ve got this project and sometime at the end of the month, we’ll have the Hattiesburg solar farm project.”

Brandon Presley, Public Service Commission President and Northern District Commissioner, agreed.

“You know, the thing is we can’t know tomorrow what gasoline is going to cost,” he said. “We won’t know tomorrow what a gallon of milk is going to cost, but the sunshine is free. By using this resource in Mississippi, we are going to be able to keep rates low and keep rates stable. It captures a natural resource that makes Mississippi more energy-independent and makes us more energy-secure.”

Smith said the 600-acre solar farm will be an economic asset in many ways, including economic development.

“This project and the other solar projects that we’ve been working on have very favorable economics,” he said. “They are going to put downward pressure on rates over the term of the contract and they contribute to environmental stewardship goals that the company has. We like to say that these projects here have the potential to increase our economic development in the local communities because this could be a draw, a good draw for those companies that have incentives to go green.”

Presley said renewable resources such as solar energy are huge benefits for economic development.

“You can pick up just about any paper talking about economic development, companies that are expanding and many companies like Google and Facebook,” he said. “They want to go where there is renewable energy. This gives us a leg up. This is a great step and for this to be the largest solar farm in the State of Mississippi is something I am very proud of. It says that we’re committed to looking to the energy of the future and making sure that we are doing everything we can to get a leg up on economic development. You do that by growing your energy base in the state.”

Construction on the Sumrall facility began in October 2016 and generates 52 megawatts, enough electricity to supply power to about 8,000 homes. Origis Energy was the developer for the solar farm, while D.E. Shaw Renewable Investments owns the project and DEPCOM Power built the plant.

In addition to the Sumrall site, Mississippi Power and its partners are scheduled to open two solar generating facilities in 2017 – a 3-megawatt solar facility at the Naval Construction Battalion Center in Gulfport that opened Tuesday and a 50-megawatt solar plant in Hattiesburg that is scheduled to open later this year.

As part of the companies’ outreach, DESRI, Mississippi Power and DEPCOM Power gave more than $400,000 in corporate donations to deserving programs,

Including The Salvation Army, The United Way, Extra Table, Hattiesburg Area Habitat for Humanity and DREAM of Hattiesburg.

Michael Dixon, executive director of Extra Table, told the dedication audience that he appreciated the donations by DEPCOM and Mississippi Power Company.

“I don’t know if you know this, but Mississippi has more than 600,000 people that are food insecure,” he said. “This means that they don’t have access to the food that they need. Two hundred thousand of that number are children. In the little bit of time that we have been associated with DEPCOM, they have made a big dent in a big problem.

Dixon said DEPCOM had contributed more than $25,000 to Extra Table, while Mississippi Power had contributed more than $22,000.

Mississippi Power, a subsidiary of Southern Company, has more than 186,000 customers in 23 southeast Mississippi counties.