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Clean energy journalism for a cooler tomorrow

Biggest solar farm in Louisiana gets warm welcome from local community

Lightsource bp’s Ventress project will more than double solar capacity in a state known for oil and gas.
By Eric Wesoff

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(Lightsource bp)

If you told me five years ago that we’d be building a 300-megawatt-plus solar project in Louisiana, I would have said, You’re crazy,’” Kevin Smith, the CEO of the Americas for solar developer Lightsource bp, told Canary Media.

Louisiana evokes the sights of bayous and alligators, the sounds of Allen Toussaint and Carnival, the flavors of crawfish etouffee, and the smell of an active (and actively polluting) oil and gas economy.

The state is the third-largest producer of natural gas in America. Legendary Louisiana city New Orleans is the largest population center at risk from sea-level rise in the country, according to nonprofit organization Sea Level Rise.

What Louisiana doesn’t conjure up are images of big solar power installations and a populace in favor of renewable energy. But that’s changing.

Last month, Lightsource bp started construction on Ventress Solar, the largest solar farm in Louisiana, which it will own and operate on 1,800 acres of land in Pointe Coupée Parish.

Louisiana had about 200 megawatts of solar installed as of Q3 of last year, according to the Solar Energy Industries Association, so adding 345 megawatts in one fell swoop dramatically changes the state’s solar landscape.

It also indicates a sea change in the way some states that are historically rooted in the oil and gas industry are opening up to new energy sources.

Jobs and economic development

This project is exciting news for our parish,” said Major Thibaut, president of Pointe Coupée Parish. It brings the largest economic development project to the area in 30 years, with minimal impact on our infrastructure.”

The project will create 400 mostly local construction jobs in its initial 21- to 24-month phase.

Ventress Solar will also contribute a significant amount of money to local government in the first 10 years of the solar farm’s operation, through the state’s Pilot (which stands for payment in lieu of taxes”) program. Participation in the Pilot program means approximately $30 million in revenue for the parish government, law enforcement and school system without an increase in taxes on our residents,” said Thibaut.

The parish where the project is located is relatively rural,” said Lightsource bp’s Smith. There’s a lot of farming and horse ranches. We showed up at the permitting hearing, and [the project] passed the city council with unanimous consent, 80. It was great to see a community that was historically dependent on oil and gas activities really embrace a solar project.”

In developing the solar farm, Lightsource bp is following an ordinance adopted by the Pointe Coupée Parish council, which requires proper maintenance and end-of-life decommissioning, as well as buffer zones of trees to shield the panels from public view.

The company regards it as a really fair ordinance.” Smith continued: It was refreshing to walk into a community that wanted to partner and make sure the items that the community cared about were taken care of. We’re using this as a model to work with communities going [forward].”

Lightsource bp is also dedicating $375,000 to local philanthropic activities and charitable donations to Pointe Coupée Parish organizations.

Ventress Solar will help power the U.S. operations of McDonald’s and eBay, which have signed power-purchase agreements with Lightsource bp.

Solar embraced by the local community

Solar’s growth in the U.S. is breathtaking and persistent. Following the approximately 23 gigawatts deployed in the U.S. last year, research house S&P Global Market Intelligence has released an aggressive forecast of 44 gigawatts coming online in 2022, which would be almost a doubling year over year.

Solar is now the​“cheapest electricity in history,” according to the International Energy Agency.

The number of solar projects with capacities of 100 megawatts and above is booming across all regions of the U.S. and reaching states like Louisiana and what Smith called areas of the country that are less open to renewable energy, more hardcore oil and gas or coal country.”

Smith noted that decades of financial support from the oil and gas industry have pushed some people in these areas to view solar as a bad thing because it’s theoretically pushing out conventional fuels. But while the Ventress project is sited in a community that has been historically dependent on oil and gas, it is now fully embracing the solar revolution,” said the CEO.

Eric Wesoff is editorial director at Canary Media.