Mississippi is one of the last places that many associate with solar. With few thriving industries, this deepest of Deep South states has been plagued by deep and persistent poverty for at least a century, and has seen wave after wave of economic booms pass it by.
However, in recent years Mississippi has managed to attract solar manufacturing, including thin film maker Stion and China’s Seraphim Solar, and this has brought with it jobs and economic development for select areas of the state. Now Mississippi is beginning to also embrace large-scale solar, following on the wave led by North Carolina and Georgia, which is transforming the South from a solar no-man’s land to one of the nation’s leading regions.
As the latest, last week Mississippi regulators approved a 25-year power contract for Southern Company subsidiary Mississippi Power to buy electricity from a 52.5 MW solar project which developer Silicon Ranch will build, own and operate. Silicon Ranch expects to complete the project in December 2019.
The SR Meridian plant will be located in Lauderdale County near the Alabama border, and follows on the completion of a 52 MW-AC project in Sumrall in July. Combined with a 50 MW project in Hattiesburg, which is due to come online in a few weeks and a 4 MW array in Gulfport, Mississippi Power estimates that SR Meridian will allow it to reach 160 MW of solar capacity under contract.
Mississippi had the 36th-largest solar market in 2016 according to GTM Research and Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA), and the 40th-largest installed capacity. This is less than its neighbors Alabama, Arkansas, Louisiana and Tennessee, however when these large solar facilities come online it will likely put Mississippi ahead of Louisiana and Arkansas, as these states are not building much large-scale solar.
Utility decisions may have a lot to do with this. Southern Company’s embrace of utility-scale solar through its subsidiaries in Georgia, Alabama and Mississippi is in contrast to Entergy, which also manages utilities subsidiaries in several Deep South states including Louisiana, Mississippi and Arkansas, and which has been much slower to adopt solar.
The electricity supplied from the SR Meridian project will help to serve Naval Air Station Meridian, which is also located in the county, and will help the Navy to fulfill its renewable energy goals. The Navy has been among the most aggressive branches of the U.S. military in terms of adopting renewable energy.