It’s been a little over a year since Entergy announced plans to build a 350,000 solar panel facility on a 1,000-acre site in northern Sunflower County.
Mississippi Entergy President & CEO Haley Fisackerly told The E-T this week that the project is still awaiting regulatory approval, but the company and its partner Recurrent Energy expects the facility will be under construction soon.
“We’re still very optimistic about it,” Fisackerly said during a phone interview this week. “We still have the filing pending at the Mississippi Public Service Commission. There have been no major issues.”
Fisackerly, who has strong family ties to Sunflower County, said the PSC has had a full slate of proposals to sift through in 2019, and that accounts for most of the delay on the project.
“It’s not been delayed because of concerns,” he said. “It’s been delayed because they have a very full agenda this year, not just with Entergy, but with other utilities in the state that they regulate.”
In late 2018, Entergy and Recurrent said they planned to partner on what was then said to be a $138 million solar panel farm that would be located in the Ruleville area.
During this week’s interview, Fisackerly said the investment in the project could top $150 million.
He did say that advances in solar technology could lead to more efficiencies, which could mean the two companies may not need the full 1,000 acres projected last year.
They will not know the full scope until they receive regulatory approval and begin the design phase, Fisackerly said.
Entergy has another pending request at the PSC related to the project, Fisackerly said, and that is the concept of “community solar.”
“Community solar will allow customers to participate in solar directly through the ability to buy energy directly out of that facility rather than having to put it on their homes or businesses,” he said. “It’s a popular concept that has been used in other parts of the country, and we have seen through our polling that there are a lot of customers that have an interest in using solar energy.”
Fisackerly said some may live in places that are not conducive to receiving solar, and solar is still not affordable to all, so community solar could be a viable solution to those customers who still want to utilize the energy from the solar panel farm.
Fisackerly said Entergy is also thrilled to be building this farm just a few miles from Cleveland, where the company retired a plant.
“While something goes away, something new comes to the area, so it represents our continued investment in the Delta,” he said.
Fisackerly also said the companies are still looking at battery storage as part of the project, something he mentioned last fall as well.
The project announcement last year followed three solar pilot programs that were launched in three counties across Mississippi.
“The most important thing we needed to know was how solar would work in Mississippi,” Fisackerly said. “We had all kinds of data on places like Arizona and places that were already using solar. Our climate is different. We needed to know really how that would work here.”
The solar panel farm will create a small number of jobs for operational purposes, but Entergy estimated last year it would employ over 300 during the construction phase, which set to be completed no later than 2022.