A new project outside of Jonesboro, Ark., is combining the use of the latest solar technology and on-site battery energy storage to produce energy for the local agriculture industries.
Southland Gin, Delta Farms, Craighead Electric Cooperative, and Today's Power, Inc., (TPI) celebrated the release of the project by holding a "Flip the Switch" ceremony in Lake City, Ark., in late July.
"Craighead Electric is in northeastern Arkansas where agriculture drives economic growth and is the community's life-blood. As a rural electric cooperative, our top priority is our membership," said Monty Williams, vice president of Member Services and Communication at Craighead Electric. "This project was a way for our cooperative to say 'yes' to our members, Southland Gin and Delta Farms, who were aiming to achieve sustainability goals and savings in their farm operations, while at the same time benefiting our entire membership with an on-site battery storage system."
"Today’s Power, Inc. is very honored to work with Southland Gin, Delta Farms, and Craighead Electric Cooperative to bring three technologies together on one project to help our agribusiness partners save on their energy costs, making them more competitive," said Michael Henderson, president of Today's Power and executive vice president and CEO of the Electric Cooperatives of Arkansas.
"This project makes cotton produced by Delta Farms and processed by Southland Gin among the cleanest in the world. Delta Farms uses clean, renewable solar to irrigate crops, and Southland Gin uses clean renewable energy to process cotton while helping CECC reduce its wholesale power demand, which saves all its members significant energy costs.
"All of this clean energy means cotton can be marketed as clean cotton. Once, cotton in the Mid-South was referred to as 'king cotton' because it was the primary cash crop. Now, it can be referred to as 'clean cotton' because of the sustainable stewardship of Delta Farms, Southland Gin, and Craighead Electric. We are excited to partner with these quality institutions for the next several years."
A win-win partnership
Today's Power, one of the corporations that forged a way for this project, is a wholly owned subsidiary of Arkansas Electric Cooperatives, Inc. (AECI).
"Today's Power, Inc., was created back in 2014 and serves the electric cooperative sector, which is a not-for-profit entity, but the commercial, industrial, and agricultural industries quickly caught word of our programs and wanted to explore renewable energy options for themselves," said Jennah Denney, marketing and public relations coordinator for Today's Power.
Two other organizations involved with the project are Delta Farms and Southland Gin, whose owners are cotton, soybean, and peanut farmers in northeast Arkansas. Len B. Nall, Ted Qualls, and Greg Garner are the owners of both organizations and have been heavily involved with the project.
The project, referred to as the Southland Gin, Delta Farms, and Craighead Electric Renewable Energy Project, has been in the making for over a year.
"It started when Delta Farms and Southland Gin came to their electric co-op about their electricity usage," Denney said. "At the co-op, they work closely with their members who are member-owners of the cooperative. They wanted to do whatever they could to continue to promote the ag industry in the area through low rates. Craighead and the two farm organizations worked together to make this project happen, which is a great story of cooperation between the ag industry and the utility industry in the area."
Delta Farms and Southland Gin had land available for two separate solar systems between the two farm organizations, so Today’s Power designed, provided, and installed the solar technology, and incorporated an on-site battery energy storage system designed for Craighead Electric that is coupled with the single-axis tracking array portion of the project.
"Not only does the system offset over 90% of the farmers' energy usage, but the battery energy storage system also is being charged with one of the two solar ray systems on-site," she said. "The intention is to reduce the peak demand of the electric cooperative and it will inevitably result in lower wholesale rates. It's a win-win for everyone."
This one-of-a-kind project consists of two different solar technologies: a fixed-tilt system and a single-axis tracking system. On the site, the two solar rays have different orientations to receive the optimal amount of sunlight.
The fixed-tilt system is a 1.2-megawatt system or a 1,200 KW system. The fixed-tilt system, owned by Delta Farms, is stationary and is pointed in a direction for optimal sun exposure. The system offsets most of the power usage for the operation.
The single-axis tracking system is an 882 KW system and charges the battery.
"The battery energy storage system, operated by Craighead Electric Cooperatives, is small but mighty sized at 3 MW/6MWh," Denney said. "This means there are three megawatts of power that can be discharged for two hours, and there are 924 battery modules in that system."
In total, the single-axis tracking system is made up of 2,352 panels and six string inverters while the fixed-tilt system has 3,200 panels with eight string inverters.
"There is no other project in the Mid-South that has two different solar technologies on one site, paired with energy storage," she said. "In September 2019, Today's Power, worked with another electric cooperative in northwest Arkansas and the city of Fayetteville to install and commission the first battery energy storage system made up of lithium-ion batteries. Since then, there have been two other projects under construction in Arkansas."
The single-axis tracking system contains several drive shafts, and a GPS module is placed on one of the inverter racks to track the exact location of the sun. Since the system tracks throughout the day, it has 15% more energy density than a fixed-tilt system.
"This project gives these farmers the power to produce sustainably over the next 25 years, which is the lifetime of these systems," Denney said. "When you can predict what your energy costs are going to be for the next 25 years, that's a huge benefit to a farmer and his organizations for the sustainability of his operations.”
"We're now long-term partners of both organizations, and Today's Power maintains all three systems. We are responsible for making sure these systems are producing at peak performance every day, which means there are no risks for the farmers. They do not have to worry about fixing anything and can focus their time on what they do best."