After a slight change of venue — no more than 100 feet — Brandon Presley, northern district commissioner for the Mississippi Public Service Commission, signed the approval documents that will allow work on a pair of solar farms in Lowndes County.
Originally scheduled to be held on the steps of the Lowndes County Courthouse, the short ceremony was shifted to the shade.
“We thought, given the subject matter, that it would be a good idea to have this event in the sunshine,” said Presley, who was already sweating through his white dress shirt at the 11 a.m. ceremony which began with the temperature hitting 90 degrees. “It’s a little too hot for that.”
Tennessee-based Silicon Ranch Investment announced in March its plans to build two solar farms on 10 acres it purchased in Lowndes County near the Golden Triangle Industrial Park. Silicon Ranch, along with is subsidiary, SR Walker East, LLC, will combine to produce 1.6 megawatts at the site — enough to power 200 homes. The electricity will be connected to the TVA power grid by 4-County Electric Power Association. The plans were contingent on gaining approval from the PSC and became official when Presley signed those documents Thursday.
“This is a big step for solar power in Mississippi and an even bigger step for solar power in Lowndes County,” Presley said. “This is a big deal for Lowndes County. It represents a $2.9 million investment by Silicon Ranch and SR Walker East. It’s also great for our rate-payers because it allows us to have more diverse sources of power.”
Presley was joined at the short ceremony by Matt Beasley, senior vice president for business development at Silicon Ranch; Thomas Lee, president of the Lowndes County Industrial Development Authority; and officials from 4-County and TVA, as well as other city and county leaders.
“We’re excited about the environmental and economic benefits these farms will bring to the county,” Beasley said. “Like most projects, success depends on having good partnerships and that was one of the things that made Lowndes County attractive to us.”
Beasley, who said Silicon Ranch plans to open additional solar farms in Okolona, Houston and New Albany, said the Lowndes County facilities should be open by the end of 2015.
The plants will feature roughly 5,000 single access tracking panels, which “follow” the path of the sun through the sky before resetting when the sun goes down.
Although the farms will create only a few jobs once construction is complete, Beasley said the benefits to the community are notable.
“We’ll pay full taxes. There aren’t any fee-in-lieu arrangements or rate deals,” he said. “Plus, solar farms don’t demand much of anything in terms of services that the taxes support.”
Slim Smith is a columnist and feature writer for The Dispatch. His email address is email@example.com.