Hattiesburg solar farm marks its first trip around the sunBy HASKEL BURNS,
It’s been a year this month since state and local officials cut the ribbon on the 450-acre Hattiesburg Solar Farm between Bonhomie Road and U.S. 49 in south Hattiesburg.
Since that time, the site – which is the result of a contract between Silicon Ranch Corporation and Mississippi Power – has functioned quietly to provide 50 megawatts of energy, enough to provide electricity for approximately 6,500 homes in the area.
“With more than a dozen facilities across the state – including the 50-megawatt Hattiesburg Solar Farm – Silicon Ranch is proud to be the largest independent solar power producer in Mississippi,” said Matt Kisber, co-founder and CEO of Silicon Ranch. “What sets our company apart is that we own every project for the long term, and we’re proud to celebrate our first full year of operation with our partners at Mississippi Power, the Area Development Partnership, the city of Hattiesburg and Forrest County.”
The $100 million project, which was funded by Silicon Ranch, features 198,548 fixed-tilt polycrystalline solar panels mounted to tables. In addition to the electricity provided to homes, the solar farm is capable of breaking down electricity for about 14,000 vehicles or 22,000 tons of waste. The green energy provided at the site is expected to reduce emissions equivalent to almost 8 million gallons of gasoline.
Construction was completed by Strata Solar, which employed about 350 workers – including about 100 local employees – during the construction process. The site is currently undergoing remediation work, including connector replacement in the field.
“Beyond that, it’s a pretty light load,” said Dylan Sontag, operations and maintenance manager with Silicon Ranch. “So it’s a little heavy during the build, but then once we get past the construction phase, it’s a quiet community.”
Although the crew at the Hattiesburg site remains light, officials from Silicon Ranch can remotely monitor the solar farm from an operations center in Nashville, Tennessee, where the company is headquartered.
“It allows us to see down to 1-second data from the facility, so (we have) the ability to see the plant without having to have a large presence on site,” Sontag said. “We have these reports that we’ve built that allow us to see where small issues are at the site, so all that is able to be found remotely through our data analytics.
“Then we’ll send people to the site to correct the issues we find at our operations center.”
The contract between Mississippi Power and Silicon Ranch stipulates that Mississippi Power will purchase the electricity produced at the solar farm for the next 24 years.
“What a great first year we have had as members of the Hattiesburg community,” said Matt Beasley, chief marketing officer for Silicon Ranch. “We’ve hosted students from local schools and community groups to educate them on how our products are designed, built and operated.
“We’ve sponsored local charities and non-profit organizations and been proud to support the efforts of our friends at the ADP. We were honored to be included among the Hub City Spokes’ Top 10 Stories of 2017, and are even more excited about what lies ahead for our company and this community in the decades to come.”
Now that the solar farm has hit its first year of operation, Silicon Ranch officials will continue to look for other projects to take on throughout Mississippi.
“We have a lot of projects near Tupelo that are currently in operation, we have the project in Meridian that we’re working on,” Sontag said. “We’re really focusing on trying to bring as many projects to the southeast as we can, to help power the southeast with cleaner energy.”
The Hattiesburg Solar Farm is the second such facility in the Pine Belt, as Mississippi Power partnered last July with DEPCOM Power and D.E. Shaw Renewable Investments to open a 52-megawatt site in Sumrall.