/Here comes the sun power

Here comes the sun power

This announcement was the public preview for a new solar farm, which began construction in Chickasaw County two miles north from downtown Houston. According to Silicon Ranch Corporation, a Nashville-based operator of solar energy plants, the farm was in its final testing stage last month. The Tennessee Valley Authority will power the project, which will produce 3.9 megawatts. The sun shines brighter in Mississippi’s solar industry. Three Entergy Mississippi solar projects went online in June. These projects are the first ever utility-owned solar venture in the state, and they are located in DeSoto, Hinds, and Lincoln counties. They will generate 1,500 kilowatts annually and provide power for approximately 175 homes. Mississippi Power Co. and Silicon Ranch Corporation began construction on one of the largest state-funded solar farms in April. The Hattiesburg facility will produce 50 megawatts of electricity, enough to power approximately 6,500 homes. It is expected to be open in the early part of next year. The farm will cover 450 acres and contain 600,000 solar cells. Mississippi Power broke ground on a Sumrall facility in May. It will eventually produce 52 megawatts and provide enough power for approximately 8,000 homes. The company is also partnering with the U.S. Navy to build a 3-to 4-megawatt solar project at Gulfport’s Naval Construction Battalion Center. It will be home to approximately 13,000 solar panels and enough electricity for about 450 homes. South Mississippi Electric, a transmission and generation cooperative that provides electricity to 11 distribution members and has been operating four solar facilities in Greenwood and Kiln, Lucedale, and Lyon since this year. Taylorsville is the fifth planned location. According to South Mississippi Electric, each site produces 100 kilowatts of electricity or less. It measures approximately half an acre in size and has 378 panels. There is an increase in solar projects. The vast majority of electricity in Mississippi is still generated from natural gas. According to the Solar Energy Industries Association (a non-profit trade association), Mississippi is 47th in terms of installed solar capacity. It has 1.1 megawatts of solar power, enough to power 110 homes. From 2014 to 2015, Mississippi’s residential and commercial solar installations grew by 43 percent. According to the association, Mississippians have installed 51 kilowatts of solar power in 2014 and 90 in 2015. Alex Hobson is the senior communications manager of the association. He said that 90 kilowatts could provide power for around 15-20 homes. Joey Lee, Entergy Mississippi spokesperson, said that solar energy has many benefits and continuous advancements in panel technology have made it more efficient and less expensive to produce. This makes it an attractive fuel source for customers. “In years past solar was not an economically viable option for many people.” According to Jeff Cantin of the Gulf States Renewable Energy Industries Association, Mississippi is a great place for solar projects. He says that the only area that receives more sunlight is in the desert Southwest. However, there are not as many communities there. Cantin states that Houston is “probably the best part of the country where there’s a lot sunlight and a lot people who need electricity.” The Houston-based 3.9 megawatt solar farm, along with a nearby 1-megawatt solar plant, occupy an area of 21 acres. They are expected to be complete in 2017. Through connections to a nearby Natchez Trace Electric Power Association, the 26,000-plus solar panel arrays will be connected to the Tennessee Valley Authority transmission network. This project is part TVA’s Renewable Standard Offer program. It promotes cost-competitive renewable energies and serves as a recruiting tool for new industries. This type of operation is hoped to be replicated across the state by TVA and other solar and utility companies. Opportunities exist; obstacles persist Mississippi does not yet have the capacity to use solar power to light its entire grid. However, Mississippi residents, businesses, and utilities are seeing more opportunities to benefit from solar power due to the lower cost of materials, the incentives offered by the federal Government, and the relatively new state utility program. The cost of solar panel materials is dropping. Hobson stated that residential photovoltaic (or solar) system prices dropped from $6.65 per Watt in 2010 to $3.53 Per Watt in 2015. While commercial photovoltaic systems prices dropped from $5.92 to $2.10 per W in 2010, Hobson said. Hobson stated that solar is growing in every part of the country as the cost of solar continues its rapid decline. Federal tax credits allow home- and business owners to deduct up to 30% from their income taxes for solar energy systems. Mississippi’s Public Service Commission approved net metering in fall 2015. This allows homeowners and businesses that generate excess renewable electricity to sell it to utility companies and get the credit to their accounts. The PSC has yet to approve the procedures that will kick off those rebates. The PSC has yet to approve the procedures that will kick those rebates into gear. While Mississippi offers tax exemptions to renewable energy-related manufacturing companies, there are no state tax credits for homeowners or businesses who wish to install solar panels in their own homes. Patrick Sullivan, president and CEO of the Mississippi Energy Institute (a non-profit association that advises legislators in energy-related economic development), says this is one of the main reasons homeowners aren’t switching to solar. “It’s tiny, but it’s growing,” Sullivan stated about the Mississippi solar market. The Mississippi House bill from 2013 that would have allowed a refundable credit to cover the cost of installing and purchasing a solar energy system was killed in committee. Cantin stated that tax credits must be considered as a priority and that it is necessary to address other budget issues. Cantin stated that Mississippi could look to Louisiana and Georgia for examples because of their public programs that support renewable energy. Hopson stated that Georgia will have 1,000 megawatts (or more) of solar power by the end of this year. Another 1,200 megawatts are planned for the future. Cantin stated that Mississippi’s lack of solar market growth was evident after neighboring states like Georgia and Louisiana had developed their own solar markets. Lee stated that Entergy Mississippi is currently monitoring solar projects in Mississippi, and is looking at weather and location to determine if solar is more effective or less efficient._x000D