This co-located solar array serving two Arkansas school districts is also part of agriculture curriculum
Cedar Ridge Schools and Midland School District teamed up to improve their districts with a new solar facility. The array, a 1.36-MWdc single-axis tracking system provided by Entegrity, was inaugurated during a “Flip the Switch” ceremony with students, staff, solar implementation team, policymakers, and the sheep that maintain the solar grounds.
Cedar Ridge Schools and Midland School District of Arkansas became the first districts in the state to utilize co-located solar energy technology after signing a solar services agreement with Entegrity. With this new option, the districts shared a common site and spread fixed costs, resulting in lower solar service rates for each school district. The project provides Midland School District and Cedar Ridge School District annual savings of approximately $46,000 and $65,000, respectively.
The superintendents were eager to implement the upgrades and aid with various budget constraints caused by growth from district consolidation. By generating savings through energy efficiency upgrades and the new solar facility, the districts will have more financial freedom to reallocate operating funds to improve the learning environment for students and teachers.
“The Midland District knew it wanted to benefit from solar, so the Board decided to collaborate with one of our neighboring districts by installing a co-located array. I encourage more small districts in the state to explore all options available before ruling it out,” stated Midland Superintendent Dr. Bruce Bryant.
The Cedar Ridge Agricultural Education Department collaborated on an innovative strategy for maintaining the solar field with an efficient, educational, and environmentally friendly solution by raising Dorper sheep to maintain the grounds. The sheep strengthen the roots of the vegetation and spread seeds and fertilizer along the way, causing the restored soil and more biodiverse vegetation to absorb more carbon and water. This co-location of photovoltaics and agriculture, known as agrivoltaics, creates a green cycle without chemicals like herbicides and pesticides that pollute waterways.
Tim Cunningham, agricultural education instructor and FFA advisor, stated, “The solar project is a great fit with our agriculture program. The fields will have multiple agricultural uses such as cultivating certain plants and raising sheep that will aid students with hands-on activities in their animal science courses. Classes are learning to construct a barn and working area for their new animals. Our students will have first-hand experience in solar as farms and ranches begin to offset costs using this technology. Solar energy use, electricity demand and supply, and other relevant topics will shape our new curriculum.”
Cedar Ridge Schools Superintendent, Dr. Sherry McMasters, added, “We are thrilled to work with Entegrity on yet another energy savings project. Not only are we saving money, we are improving the learning environment for our students and teaching them sustainable practices. Our student led FFA program will have ample opportunity to learn about agrivoltaics and the employment of sheep on our grounds for upkeep. I am proud to be a part of the first co-located solar array in the state and the first to incorporate sheep.”
Market forces have pushed the fast-growing solar industry to the top of Arkansas policymakers’ lists, who see its value rise as the cost of solar equipment declines. Senator David Wallace (R-Leacheville) sponsored the Solar Access Act that made this project possible. “With Act 464, small school districts are permitted to team up and co-own their array, making solar energy, and thus the savings, feasible. I’m thrilled to see this law being leveraged by these school districts to not only create savings, but to be used as an educational tool for their students.”
Senator James Sturch (R-Batesville) commented on the development, “What we are doing here in Independence County is paving the way for an equitable transition to locally produced power—benefiting the community, job market, and economy. The students get the opportunity to learn and see clean energy first-hand and gain early exposure to this technology, preparing them for the changing job market as our market shifts.”
Cedar Ridge School District’s State Representative Stu Smith and Midland’s Craig Christiansen, both in favor of the enabling legislation, were also complimentary of their respective districts. Said Representative Smith, “Legislation like the Solar Access Act increases access to solar energy in Arkansas, creating jobs and boosting economic development.” Added Representative Christiansen, “Employment related to the installation and service of renewable energy is expected to be the fastest growing occupation of the next decade. Projects like this allow for hands-on learning for our students so they are better prepared for the changing career landscapes.”
“Entegrity is honored to continue implementing these innovative solar projects. This is a smart way for smaller districts and other public entities to approach energy savings.” said Rick Vance, Regional Director of Entegrity.