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Mississippi Power solar facility operating in Hattiesburg

Sep 15, 2017 - Hattiesburg, MS

Lici Beveridge, Breaking News Reporter

The sun was burning bright Friday morning as dozens of officials cut the ribbon on Hattiesburg's new solar facility, a partnership between Mississippi Power Co. and Silicon Ranch.

The site, located on 450 acres off U.S. 49 South, will generate enough electricity annually to power 6,500 houses.

The 50-megawatt facility features around 200,000 fixed-tilt solar panels that generate direct current, which is converted to alternating current and directed to customers throughout Mississippi Power's coverage area.

"There are not many metropolitan areas that can brag about 50 megawatts of solar energy on the grid within the city limits," said Todd Jackson, vice president of economic development for the Area Development Partnership. 

Mississippi Power now provides more than 100 megawatts of energy between the Hattiesburg facility and the one recently opened in Sumrall, Mississippi Power President Anthony Wilson said.

"This makes the Hattiesburg area kind of the epicenter of the whole renewable energy space in Mississippi," Wilson said.

Mississippi Power has another facility at the Seabee base in Gulfport, and a fourth Mississippi Power solar facility is under construction near the Naval Air Station in Meridian.

"As we go forward it is very important for utilities to have a diverse fuel portfolio," Wilson said. "And I think solar is certainly a big component of that."

"It captures the our character as the Hub City," Mayor Toby Barker said. "If you look at the history of Hattiesburg and how we've become the hub of so many things — from medical care to military to higher education to retail to culinary — we're becoming quite the hub for sustainable alternative energy."

The Hattiesburg facility was built and will be operated by Silicon Ranch in partnership with Mississippi Power. Strata Solar constructed the facility, which provided around 350 mostly local jobs during construction.

Tony Smith, renewable projects manager for Mississippi Power, said the Hattiesburg and Sumrall facilities put the Pine Belt in the forefront of solar energy production.

"It directly supports economic development because it brings in advanced technology that a lot of industries are looking for," he said. "And it will put downward pressure on rates over the (25-year) term of the contract."

The solar farm in Sumrall began operating in June. It was built in partnership with Mississippi Power and D.E. Shaw Renewable Investments. The 52-megawatt solar-generating facility — the largest solar facility in the state — is located on nearly 600 acres with about 220,000 panels. It can produce enough energy to supply power to around 8,000 homes.

ADP President Chad Newell said the solar facility will be a huge draw for the country's top companies looking for a place to open a new facility.

Newell also hopes the investment in solar will be used to attract more new industries, especially those whose corporate goals are to reduce their carbon footprint.

"This is exciting having green energy on the grid," he said. "We have about 150 megawatts of green energy. That places us at No. 1 in Mississippi in solar farms and also a leader in the Gulf South."

"We think it's a great thing for our area," said David Hogan, Forrest County Board of Supervisors president. "We believe it's going to be another significant tool in our toolbox as we try to recruit companies to come here and invest (in the Pine Belt)."

Silicon Ranch President and CEO Matt Kisber said the solar farm will produce clean energy — reducing emissions that would equate to that of around 8 million gallons of gasoline each year.

"It also takes advantage of one of the greatest resources we have — the sun," he said.

A group of fourth-graders from Rowan Elementary who are studying solar energy came out Friday to tour the solar farm and talk with some of the people who built and operate the facility.

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