SMEPA will buy power from second Lamar County solar power site

Associated Press

SMEPA will buy power from second Lamar County solar power site

HATTIESBURG, Miss. (AP) — Origis Energy will build an additional 52 megawatts of solar energy capacity in Sumrall, selling the electricity produced there to South Mississippi Electric Power Association.

SMEPA announced a letter of intent to buy the power Thursday. Mississippi Power Co. had announced in April that it would buy power from a twin 52 megawatt-facility that Origis, based on the Mediterranean island of Cyprus, plans at the Lamar County site. SMEPA said Origis plans to start selling power to the association before the end of 2016.

When the Mississippi Power facility was announced, officials said it would cost $102 million. Origis couldn't immediately be reached for comment Thursday on the cost of the new facility or its other plans for the site. The company typically builds a solar installation, secures customers to buy the power and then sells the installation to an investor. For example, Origis built three solar sites in Georgia with 24.5 megawatts of capacity and sold them to Renewable Energy Trust Capital after finishing them in 2013. That was Origis' first project in the United States after mostly focusing its efforts on Italy, Greece and Belgium.

SMEPA buys, generates and transmits power to the 11 electric cooperatives in southern and western Mississippi that own it. Those cooperatives have 419,000 customers.

It's the largest solar project to date for SMEPA, which had earlier announced it would build five much smaller facilities scattered around the state. The Origis site would have the capacity to provide about 1 percent of SMEPA's total power needs, producing enough electricity during its first year of operation to power about 10,000 medium-sized homes.

"For many years, our goal for generation facilities has been fuel diversity," SMEPA CEO Jim Compton said in a statement. "Today we announce a new goal: To move beyond fuel — to add generation that does not require fossil fuel. Our members overwhelmingly want us to diversify our energy to include renewables, and we are responding."

Mississippi Power has also agreed to buy power from a 50 megawatt project being developed by Strata Solar on 450 acres in Hattiesburg. Entergy Mississippi is building three small solar facilities in Brookhaven, DeSoto County and Jackson, while private companies are building facilities in Chickasaw and Lowndes counties.

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