Arkansas city secures 132 MW of solar to maintain the state’s lowest residential electric costs

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Over 100 years ago, Conway, Arkansas decided to “pursue institutions of higher learning as a means of growing the Conway economy,” and now calls itself the “City of Colleges,” as it is home to two colleges and a university.

Last month Conway Corp, which operates the city-owned utility system, also looked ahead in approving a 20-year fixed-rate power purchase agreement with Lightsource BP for a 132 MW solar project in White County, Arkansas.

“Conway Corp is the lowest cost residential electric provider in the state,” said Jeff Matthews, the firm’s public relations and production specialist, in a pv magazine interview. “We don’t anticipate a change in our rates today, but solar should help us continue to provide reliable, innovative and affordable service to our customers.”

Conway, a city of 66,000, currently receives a third of its power from its 2% ownership in four coal plants, Matthews said, and two-thirds from “bi-lateral deals and spot purchases from [the MISO grid region] to meet daily needs.”

With the coal plants retiring by 2032, “we knew we would need to meet future needs with future resources,” Matthews said.  Conway Corp prepared an integrated resource plan and “after taking nearly a year of studying data we were able to compare all information and found that the best path for us was a solar project.”

Conway Corp worked with The Energy Authority, a firm it has worked with since 2015, to prepare and publicize a solar request for proposals (RFP). “They knew who to contact and how to help guide us into that project,” said Matthews, adding that “just under 20” bidders responded to the RFP.

Asked if other utilities have contacted Conway Corp since it announced its solar power purchase agreement, Matthews said “Yes, people are curious and as a respected utility in Arkansas we have fielded questions from peers regarding our decision, as they are making decisions of their own.”

The solar project will create 250 construction jobs and is expected to go online at the end of 2022. Lightsource BP says in a press release that it will develop “a site-specific long-term land management plan that will optimize environmental benefits of the project in order to help improve the land.”

Municipal utilities and rural co-ops serve about 50 million people in the U.S., according to the American Public Power Association.

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