Spotlight on Butler, Lowndes, Covington and Crenshaw: Solar everywhere

Butler, Lowndes and Covington have big solar energy projects in the works

Mercedes-Benz U.S. International has teamed up with Alabama Power to build the 80-megawatt project in Lowndes County. Pictured are (from left) Michael Goebel, president and CEO of MBUSI, and Mark Crosswhite, Alabama Power CEO.

David Hutchison, executive director for the Butler County Commission for Economic Development, jokingly calls landing a $77 million solar farm in Greenville and Butler County an “overnight success story.”

“We started talking to them in the fourth quarter of 2019,” he says of Peak Energy, the Colorado company that is building the 550-acre, 80-megawatt farm. A couple of years went by, and, finally, the solar farm became the largest investment in Butler County in 2021.

It may have taken a little while to land, but it’s a “big deal,” according to Hutchison. “This site generates a total of $7,600 per year in property taxes,” he says. “But when this project is completed, it will generate about $117,000 in property taxes.”

That’s money — about $4 million over 35 years — that will go to the Butler County Schools.

In addition, Peak will give $40,000 each year for 20 years to help fund economic development in Butler County. Each year, $10,000 of that will go into the annual operating budget and $30,000 will go into the Butler County revolving loan fund for small businesses, Hutchison says.

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Construction should begin on the Butler County project in three to four months, and it probably will be completed 12-18 months after that, Hutchison says.

Peak approached Butler County, Hutchison says, because of the availability of land, as well as its proximity both to the highway system and a transmission line of somebody who can receive solar power.

In this case, that somebody is Alabama Power, which has announced that Georgia’s Southwire, one of North America’s largest wire and cable producers, will receive some of the solar energy produced by the farm for its Heflin plant.

“We gave them advice on clearing the land and how it would be managed and all of that,” Hutchison says. “How it’s transmitted from the site and who it is sent to is strictly an Alabama Power deal.”

There are a couple of other solar farm projects revving up near the one in Butler County:

In December, Alabama Power and Mercedes-Benz U.S. International received approval to build the 80-megawatt Letohatchee Solar Project in Lowndes County. Under the 15-year contract, according to a release from the companies, Mercedes will receive all of the renewable energy credits from the facility, “a significant portion of the electric needs for its Vance and Bibb County campuses.” The project is expected to generate $9 million in tax revenues over the life of the project. It’s expected to be in operation in March 2024.

The Wing Solar project for PowerSouth Energy Cooperative by Origis Energy is about the same size as the LaFayette Solar project pictured here. Lafayette Solar also was developed by Origis and is in Chambers County. Photo provided by Origis.

PowerSouth Energy Cooperative and Origis Energy are partnering on an 80-megawatt solar project in Covington County that’s expected to come online in late 2022. PowerSouth plans to buy power from that plant.

The PowerSouth and Origis farm, called Wing Solar, will be similar to Origis’ LaFayette Solar project in Chambers County, according to the company.

“There are several reasons why Alabama’s Covington County is a good area for the solar project,” says Johan Vanhee, chief commercial and procurement officer for Origis Energy. “The project location is convenient to PowerSouth’s headquarters. Additionally, local leadership and economic development teams are very collaborative, seeking to create economic and environmental wins for their region.”

Wing Solar will comprise about 970 acres, with a vegetation buffer built around areas of the project.

“Once completed, the Wing Solar project will add the largest amount to date of clean, renewable, solar-generated energy to PowerSouth Energy Cooperative’s generation mix,” Origis says. “To fulfill this goal, the 80-megawatt facility will use approximately 238,000 solar panels.”

Alec Harvey is executive editor of Business Alabama.

This article appeared in the April 2022 issue of Business Alabama.

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