Group proposes solar facility for park

By PAT BROWN,

The Simpson County Development District held a called meeting at their Mendenhall offices Thursday morning to discuss a proposal offer for the Mendenhall Industrial Park.

Dr. Dean Blackwell and his partner, attorney Robert Moorehead, have proposed building a solar electric production facility in the industrial park on Highway 43 just outside  Mendenhall. 

They proposed that the district allow them to lease the 109 acres in the park to build a solar panel farm.  They offered to pay $500 a year for a three year lease after which payments would go to $500 per month for a 40 year lease.  They also asked for an additional option to renew at the end of the 40 years. 

The 20 mega watt facility they proposed requires five acres to generate each mega watt of power, according to Blackwell. 

Several things must happen in order to make this deal come together.  One is that Entergy would agree to allow the power on the grid so that it could be sold to customers in other markets.  One major issue is the transmission line to the closest substation.  According to Blackwell, there are questions as to whether the existing lines would be capable of carrying the needed load. 

Blackwell said that time is of the essence.  He wants the first lease of three years to be in place by December 1 because a 4 percent tax credit is set to expire by January 31, 2020. He also said that a subsidy is available for renewable resource power.  It is as high as 10 to 12 cents per kilowatt, but, according to Blackwell, Entergy only offers about 2 cents a kilowatt. 

In order to get the 4 percent tax credit the partners must show improvement to the facility.  Blackwell is proposing that the county build a road for access through the park.  This action locks in the tax credit and would give Blackwell and his group the opportunity to put together the other parts of the program. 

Blackwell said it most likely would be determined over the first year of the lease whether the project would work.  If not, the land would revert  to the district. 

The downside of the proposal is that once the county commits to Blackwell’s group, it has little opportunity to recruit other prospects because of lack of available property.  However, those discussing the proposal noted that there have been no solid leads on the property for the past ten years. 

The district heard the request from Blackwell and determined to make a counter offer, expressing concern that everything was expected to be done so quickly.  Members also stated that the district had expected to get better terms on the property. 

The district directed Executive Director Donnie Caughman to prepare the counter offer and contact Blackwell. 

With the possibility of committing most of the available property for this project, the district board authorized Caughman to pursue other land options for development.