Future looks ‘green’ for Mississippi

Published 5:51 pm Tuesday, March 23, 2021

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It’s been a long time coming, but Mississippi is about to join the green energy parade.

It’s not going to be wind energy like Texas, which is not getting a quarter of its electricity from west Texas windmills.  No, Mississippi winds aren’t anything like west Texas.
But Mississippi does get plenty of sunshine.

Eight solar projects are in the works that could add up to more than 806 megawatts of total capacity. That’s more than the famed Kemper power plant and more than half the maximum output of the Grand Gulf nuclear power plant.

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That’s a big new player in the energy generating field.
The beauty of wind and solar is the low variable cost. You don’t have to pay the wind to blow or the sun to shine. It’s free, other than maintenance.

Because of the unpredictable nature of solar energy, Mississippi will be heavily dependent on natural gas for the foreseeable future. Currently, 88 percent of Mississippi’s energy is produced by natural gas. That’s a good thing. Natural gas prices have been at an all-time low. Fracking technology has greatly expanded the amount of natural gas.

There’s a further bonus: Natural gas is the cleanest burning fossil fuel — twice as clean as coal and oil.
The expanding use of natural gas has reduced national greenhouse emissions by 12 percent, back to 1996 levels.

Say what you will about solar and wind, for the last several years, worldwide, solar and wind plants are increasing electricity generating capacity per year twice as much as fossil fuels.

There’s no denying it’s real.
Investment bank Lazard Freres has for years tracked the cost of generating electricity from various types of power plants. The key metric is called the “unsubsidized levelized cost of energy. For the first time ever, wind and solar energy have the lowest cost.

That’s one reason you are seeing such an explosion in new wind and solar installations.
Even more impressive is that the dramatic cost reductions in these two energy forms have not stopped.

If current trends continue, wind and solar energy could cost half as much as fossil fuels in five years.
The Achilles heel of wind and solar is that the wind doesn’t blow and the sun doesn’t shine all the time.  But great progress is being made in battery storage technology.

It is not outlandish to foresee a world in which cheap wind and solar energy fuel our homes, businesses and cars and fossil fuels become an old dirty and expensive form of energy. The planned Mississippi solar farms typically require about 500 acres. They are massive projects. Don’t worry. Mississippi has plenty of land to accommodate these facilities.

Even if solar powered every car, house and factory in the state, it would still require less than one percent of the total land in the state. Entergy received approval in April 2020 from the Public Service Commission for a 100 megawatt solar farm on 1,000 acres in the Mississippi Delta’s Sunflower County that is scheduled to be operational in the first quarter of 2022.

In 2019, Delta’s Edge Solar filed an application to build a 100-megawatt solar generation facility in Carroll County, which would require an investment of $109 million. The electricity generated there will be sold to the state’s largest non-profit electric cooperative, Cooperative Energy (which provides power to 11 member power associations that serve 55 of the state’s 82 counties) with a 15-year agreement.

Silicon Ranch filed an application in January 2019 to build a 73 megawatt solar facility, along with another 5 megawatt facility to serve Naval Air Station Meridian, the U.S. Navy’s largest installation in Mississippi. Moonshot Solar LLC filed an application with the commission to build a similar capacity (78.5 megawatts) facility in Hancock County. Like the previous two facilities mentioned, the company is looking for a customer for the electricity and it will also require an $80 million investment.

In May 2020, Cane Creek Solar LLC filed an application to build a 78.5 megawatt facility in Clarke County that will require an initial investment of $80 million. Like The Pearl River Solar Park, the off-taking utility has yet to be named.
In December 2020, MS Solar 5 LLC filed an application with the PSC for a 200 megawatt solar facility along with a 50 megawatt battery storage unit in Lowndes County that will require a $200 million initial investment.

Pearl River Solar Park would be the largest in the state in terms of acreage. The facility will require an initial investment of $235 million and it will be owned by EDP Renewables North America, an energy firm based in Houston. According to testimony, construction will begin in 2022 and commercial operation will occur the following year.

One hour of sun energy falling on earth is enough to fuel the whole world for a year. Human ingenuity will find a way to produce ample energy in an environmentally sustainable way.  We are now witnessing this transpire in sunny Mississippi.

Wyatt Emmerich is president of Mississippi-based Emmerich Newspapers and is the publisher of the Northside Sun.