By Barry Dalton
In the United States in the last decade, solar has had an average annual growth rate of 48%, according to the Solar Energy Industries Association. With nearly 7,800 megawatts (MW) of solar capacity installed in the U.S. alone, there’s enough to power 14.5 million homes.
Now, solar is coming to eastern Audrain County and southern Ralls County in the form of the Huck Finn Solar Project.
“EDF Renewables has been assessing an area in Audrain and Ralls county for the potential to host a 200 MW commercial scale solar project, which can produce enough clean energy to power approximately 40,000 homes,” said Jinnie Hall, community relations manager for EDF.
Nearly 250,000 Americans work in solar nationwide, and in 2019, the solar industry generated $18 billion of investment in the American economy, says EDF.
“It’s going to change the landscape,” said Jordan Epperson of Epperson Family Farms , which raises pigs and farms soybeans and corn. Epperson and his wife, Kylie, have agreed to lease 375 acres of their farmland to the project.
“It’s a lot of revenue dollars to the area,” Epperson said.
The Huck Finn Solar Project will be located on about 2,500 acres with one section located on both sides of Route P, just north of Farber and west of Vandalia. During construction, it will support approximately 150 jobs.
“We have been meeting with a number of local landowners to discuss the merits of the project and have very positive feedback and interest in participation,” Hall explained. “We have secured 100 percent of the land necessary to support this project through leases with private landowners.”
The company is now working with both counties on completing the development steps necessary to prepare the project for eventual construction and operation. The project will follow the county and state permitting process, and adhere to all the requirements and regulations for a solar project.
Although subject to change, the Huck Finn Solar Project could begin construction as soon as 2022, Hall said.
“We conduct a number of surveys ahead of beginning construction, and over the course of the next month, will be collecting soil samples to identify any subsurface concerns and risks as well as gather soil property data for infrastructure design and constructability considerations,” Hall said.
Halls says the company is committed to supporting the communities it works in throughout the life of the project in a variety of ways including giving Community Support Awards to area non-profit organizations.
A Community Support Award in the amount of $2,500 was presented to the Farber Volunteer Fire Department on Feb. 12 with plans to donate the same amount to the Vandalia Fire Department.
“Our 2021 award will help the area fire departments upgrade their communication radios, pagers and SCBAs [Self-contained breathing apparatus],” Hall said.
Since 2016, EDF projects have contributed $104.6 million in leaseholder payments and $5.8 billion in vendor spending in the United States.
“The project will inject millions over the life of the project in direct and induced economic benefit to the land owner participants and local community,” Hall said.
The Farber Volunteer Fire Department received a Community Support Award of $2,500 on Feb. 12. Presenting the check to Farber firefighters on behalf of EDF Renewables and the Huck Finn Solar Project was local farmer Jordan Epperson of Epperson Family Farms. Pictured, from left to right, are Jordan Epperson and volunteer firefighters Tony Shade, Justin Franke, Gary Stubblefield and Jamie Day. Photo by Barry Dalton