‘Giant leap into the future’: Groundbreaking kicks off $150M solar project

Published 8:53 pm Tuesday, May 23, 2023

ELIZABETH — Allen Parish took a giant leap into the future Tuesday with a ceremonial groundbreaking celebrating the start of construction of the $150 million solar project by Opdenergy.

The project, Elizabeth Solar Project, will occupy 1,000 acres of what was once timber land and soybean fields off Monroe Baggett Road, south of La. 112 near Elizabeth and Grant. The property is being leased from a local family under a 40-year agreement.

Once completed, the large-scale solar facility will be capable of producing 125-megawatts of electricity, enough to power 200,000 average American homes. The electricity will be sold to Entergy of Louisiana under a 20-year contract.

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“This is a great economic boost for Allen Parish, especially Ward 4,” said Ken Kelly of the Allen Parish Industrial Development board and an Elizabeth alderman said. “I would love to see them all over the parish, but it is what it is for right now. Maybe this is the start of something good in this area.”

Allen Parish Police Jury Administrator Jacob Dillehay said the project is a big step in enticing growth for economic development and seeking sustainability in the parish.

“The local impact of this project is huge to the school districts, the road districts and throughout the parish — there is going to be some impact but that local impact is important here,” Dillehay said. “This area needs the revenue. They are running a budget deficit on an annual basis. This is going to take them from red to black and that is important.

Nearly $3 million in sales tax revenues are expected 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.

District 4 Police Juror Creig Vizena, who represents the area, said is a positive move for the parish and will help a bring positive revenue stream to the district.

“This will mean thousands of dollars for, not only the Police Jury, the School Board, the sheriff’s office, the fire districts….,” Vizena said. “It will also mean jobs for the parish and anything is great for this part of the parish because we are so rural.”

Allen Parish School Board, Child Welfare, Attendance and Transportation Supervisor Kenney Courville said revenues from the project will be “tremendous” for the school district.

“Our objective is to continue to try to raise our salaries and to be competitive on the salary scale,” he said. “Anytime you can add sales taxes to the revenue, it can be a huge benefit.”

The additional tax dollars will also help increase school maintenance funds for the nearby Fairview school district.

“We are lucky to have this business locate in Allen Parish,” Courville said. “Hopefully it will be the start of bigger and better things to come.”

Luis Polo, managing director for Opdenergy, said the parish will also benefit from hotel, food and beverage revenues generated by construction crews and others who will be working on the project for the next 12-14 months.

“It’s a win for the parish in terms of tax revenue and green energy,” Polo road.

Braden Houston, managing director of U.S. solar development for Opdenergy, said the project helps provide a promising future for the parish.

“As you start to see growth in different areas of the country you are seeing a lot of new era companies starting to say we are looking to open a factory here or we are looking to open a data center here, but one of the things a lot of them say is we need to have access to renewable energy,” he said.

Houston said the project is a collaborative effort based on valuable community partnerships.

“It is pretty incredible, because I have done business all over this country and this world, and it is something to have someone to step up the way the parish did,” he said. “It is going to be a benefit to the parish for 40-plus years. A lot of tax revenue that may not have happened if we hadn’t been able to work together.”

The project is expected to create about 300 temporary jobs at its peak, including contractors, subcontractors and electricians. Long-term about five to eight permanent jobs will be needed for maintenance, including lawn care and repairs.