Children of the Sun: Company wants to build solar collection facility on 16th section land in the Kiln
By Dwayne Bremer, Staff Writer
Jul 14, 2017, 16:26
Constructed 120MW Comanche Solar Project in Colorado. Photo courtesy of RES
A proposed solar energy-farm in Hancock County could provide a lot of sunshine to the local economy, officials said Thursday.
Hancock County School District Attorney Mark Alexander confirmed Thursday that HCSD recently began negotiations with the Colorado-based company RES, which wants to lease school-owned property to a bring a solar-power collection operation to Hancock County.
"If it happens, this could be a great thing for the school district and for Hancock County," Superintendent of Education Alan Dedeaux said. "We have been working with this company for a while now and we hope to continue to work with them on this project.
RES approached the school district last year with a general inquiry about leasing 16th-Section school property north of Interstate 10, officials said.
"The newest and most positive development is that we are now in negotiations a lease," Alexander said. "All of the negotiations are confidential, but they have been positive so far."
RES officials said Friday that the project is still in the early stages and many details have yet to be finalized.
The company wants to lease up to 800 acres of land from the school district and install solar collection panels that will be able to produce up to 80 mega watts of energy per hour, RES Spokesman Scott Dunaway said Friday.
Once open, the company will sell the energy to local utility companies, he said.
"We believe that the project brings incredible benefits to the local community, particularly as the portion of the project to be located on school district land could bring significant additional revenue to Hancock County schools," he said. We will continue to work with the school district, local and regional government to ensure that this project brings cost-effective, clean and socially-beneficial solar power to southern Mississippi.
Alexander said the potential lease will be a "commercial lease" which will generate more revenue than hunting leases, which are commonly issued for the school-owned property.
"One of the main issues is going to be how much land they will need to lease," Alexander said. "From what I understand, it all depends on how much energy they can sell."
In addition to creating revenue for the school district, the project would create ad valorem taxes for the county, jobs, and provide cleaner electricity, officials said.
Officials at both Mississippi Power and Coast Electric said Friday that they are interested in solar power; however, they did not specifically mention RES.
"Mississippi Power has had discussions with several companies regarding the potential interest of utility scale solar projects in counties across our service territory, including Hancock County," Mississippi Power Spokesman Jeff Sheppard said. "However, it would be improper to discuss these projects any further at this time, as no agreements have been reached. Mississippi Power will continue discussing the addition of renewable energy projects because we believe diversifying our generating fleet is in the long-term interest of our customers."
Guy Johnson, Coast Electric's vice president of the western division operations, said Friday that "it's all about economics."
"We want to get the cheapest power that we can," he said. "The company has to be able to make money and our goal is to be able to provide our members with the most affordable and reliable power available. Ten years ago, solar power was expensive. Now, it is getting a lot more competitive. We have talked to a lot of folks about large solar farms, but so far, no body has pulled the trigger. We look at each project and determine if it is feasible. If it is, then we would move forward."
Alexander said if the school district and RES reach a deal, the company will have to go through a few additional steps before it can begin operations.
"Our only involvement in this is the lease of our property," he said. "It would then go to the county and state."
Hancock County Planning and Zoning Attorney Rachel Yarborough said Friday that the company may have to go through normal zoning protocol.
"A lot will depend on how the property is zoned and what the specifics of their plan will be," she said. "Anything that is commercial in nature would require a site plan."
The Hancock County Board of Supervisors would then need to approve the project, she said.
Finally, RES would need to get approval from the Mississippi Public Service Commission.
PSC Commission Counsel Sean Shurden said Friday that any company wishing to open a power-generation facility would need to make a petition to the PSC and meet certain requirements.