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story.lead_photo.caption Rusty Pendergraft, board president, announces the dedication of a solar facility to C. Wayne Whitaker, who has been Southwest Arkansas Electric Cooperative's manager for 35 years. Photo by Kelsi Brinkmeyer / Texarkana Gazette.

TEXARKANA, Ark. — Southwest Arkansas Electric Cooperative unveiled a seven-acre solar array just north of Texarkana on Monday, aiming to better serve its customers and honor its longtime manager who is retiring this year.

The C. Wayne Whitaker Solar Power Generation Facility on Springer Road just north of Texarkana contains 3,800 individual solar panels and will have a viable lifespan of 25 years, officials say.

The local cooperative purchased the land for the solar array because of its visibility from Interstate 49, to bring awareness and to better serve its membership. It was designed to lower the cooperative's peak demand.

C. Wayne Whitaker, longtime Southwest Arkansas Electric Cooperative manager, stands next to a plaque at the seven-acre solar facility.
Photo by Kelsi Brinkmeyer/Texarkana Gazette.

The solar array is owned and operated by Today's Power, Inc., and leased by Southwest Arkansans Cooperative for 20 years. TPI is a renewable energy companies with more utility-scale projects than any Arkansas-based company. It is a full-service provider able to carry out all phases of any solar or battery storage project.

"Our partnership with Today's Power allows us to add 1 MW of renewable generation to our portfolio and improve the quality of life for our members," said Whitaker, the cooperative's retiring president and CEO for whom the new solar powered initiative is named. "Our mission at Southwest Arkansas Electric is to provide first-class electric service to the community that is safe, reliable and affordable."

One megawatt hour can power approximately 330 homes for roughly one hour, said Dion Cooper, vice president of information technology, communicating, and cooperative services.

In August, the solar array just outside Texarkana generated 236 megawatt hours for the month, which equates to providing an average of 330 homes with 236 hours of power, or powering 77,880 homes for one hour, Cooper said.

Most of the power generated by the solar array will be used by the local cooperative's members, Cooper said, and the solar array is located where the power generated by it can go quickly onto the grid.

The solar array went online in June but an official ceremony had to wait until Monday because of COVID-19 concerns.

"It is an honor to be part of this flip the switch ceremony and especially the dedication of this solar facility to Wayne Whitaker. I have had the opportunity to work with Wayne for 34 years and I hold him in the highest regard as an industry leader," said Michael Henderson, president of Today's Power Inc.

"He has always made well thought-out decisions that are in the best interest of the members. This solar system is a great representative of Wayne by being productive, leading edge, reliable and has great endurance."

Southwest Arkansas Cooperative serves more than 28,000 member accounts throughout Columbia, Hempstead, Howard, Lafayette, Little River, Miller, Polk and Sevier counties in Arkansas; McCurtain County in Oklahoma and Bowie County in Texas. Headquartered in Texarkana, Arkansas, the cooperative has district offices in De Queen, Nashville and Bradley, Arkansas.

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