$150M Elizabeth Solar Project planned for Allen Parish

Published 11:45 am Sunday, April 23, 2023

Opdenergy is planning to build a $150 million solar project just west of the village of Elizabeth in rural Allen Parish.

The Elizabeth Solar Project, as it has been named, will be located on 1,000 acres of what was once timber land just off Monroe Baggett Road, south of La. 112 and will consist of about 296,280 modules, according to Braden Houston, managing director of U.S. solar development for Opdenergy. The property is being leased from a local family under a 40-year agreement.

Opdenergy is based in Madrid, Spain with a U.S. office in Florida.

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“The solar project will take light from the sun and convert it into electricity that people all over the region will use in their houses,” Houston said. “It’s just a different type of power plant.”

The project will produce 125 megawatts of energy once it is up and running. That is enough to power over 20,000 average American homes, according to  the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA).

“On a sunny day in the middle of June, with no clouds, it is going to kick out 125 megawatts into the grid, which is a lot of power,” Houston said.

The electricity will be sold to Entergy Louisiana, which supplies a third of the power in the stat,e under a 20-year contract, according to Houston.

Preliminary dirt work has begun on the site and a groundbreaking is set for late May.

Construction should be underway by the summer, with commercial operations starting by early next year, depending on the weather, Houston said.

The project is expected to create about 300 temporary jobs at its peak, including contractors and electricians, according to Houston.

“Over a year you might start at 20 people on site and ramp up to 300 by this summer, then by the end of the year it will be down to about 20 or so as they start closing the project out,” he said.

Long-term about five to eight permanent employees will be needed for maintenance, including lawn care and repairs.

“Solar energy has grown significantly over the last 40 years, but in the last 10 years, it has really taken off,” Houston said. “If you look at all the announced projects across the country, there is a lot of work to be done and a lot of people are going to need to be employed working on solar in one capacity or another.”

With an initial investment of $150 million, the project will provide much-needed revenue to the parish, Allen Parish Police Jury Administrator Jacob Dillehay said.

Nearly $3 million in sales tax revenues are projected to be created by construction alone, Dillehay said. That money will be divided between the Police Jury, Allen Parish School Board and Allen Parish Sheriffs Office.

Additional revenue will be generated from the property tax that will include a 35 percent annual budget increase for both the school district and road district for the area.

The parish will not receive any revenues from the operation of the solar project.

“This is a very rural area and one of the poorest areas in the parish and it will be given an opportunity to benefit from such a large project,” Dillehay said.

Dillehay hopes the project will help spur other economic development projects in the area.

“I think people seeing this project will know that Allen Parish is open for business and open to different types of industry, not just timber,” Dillehay said. “I feel like we are breaking the ice on these types of projects.

Although the property is located right at the Beauregard Parish line, Dillehay said it is 100-percent inside Allen Parish.

Dillehay said most people passing the property will not see the solar panels. A buffer of pine trees will surround the perimeter.

Houston said the project will add to the tax base of the parish and diversify the economy, which has been largely based on timber.

“This is one more thing that’s pretty stable and long-term,” Houston said. “We supply the power. We pay the taxes. Unless people stop using power in the next 30 to 40 years – which isn’t going to happen – it’s a safe bet that it is going to run for a pretty long time.”

Houston praised parish officials for supporting the project.

“We are in a highly competitive business with other developers and the fact that the parish was so easy to work with, it makes a difference,” he said.  “We’ve done projects in other parts of the country where it has been really difficult to get the county or parish on board.”

Opdenergy has a project in West Virginia that is in construction, as well as other projects in Alabama and Georgie that are in the early development stages. The Elizabeth Solar Project is its first in Louisiana.