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Many gathered for official opening of solar farm

LaFAYETTE — Officials gathered for Thursday’s ribbon cutting at the LaFayette solar farm concurred that the 72-megawatt facility is not only practical, it also has substantial aesthetic appeal.

“Out of 100 of these we have done, it’s the most beautiful one I’ve seen,” said George Hershman, senior vice president and general manager for Swinerton Renewable Energy. “We think it’s the most beautiful one in the country.”

Solar farms are typically built in remote areas, such as deserts in the Southwestern U.S. or on farmland that’s no longer in use. Such areas are usually flat and featureless. AL Solar A in LaFayette has been built along rolling hills that are divided by small streams. Rather than one big, flat block of land, the LaFayette solar farm is built on eight separate sites bordered on the north by the LaFayette Bypass and bisected by County Road 83 in the middle.

“This is a gorgeous site,” said Steve Chriss, director, energy/strategy analysis for Walmart. “We want to thank everyone involved in getting this done. Alabama Power and the Southern Company have created a m0del other energy companies should follow.”

Chriss said that Alabama is important for Walmart. “We have over 140 stores, three distribution centers and 38,000 employees in Alabama,” he said.

Walmart has announced goal of being at least 50 percent on renewable energy by the year 2025.

“We put customers at the center of everything we do,” said Jim Heilbron of Alabama Power. “We help customers with their goals. We will be pleased to help you meet your goal of being 50 percent on renewable energy by 2025.”

Heilbron thanked Swinerton for what they did in having the solar farm on the power grid in December. “We are proud to have this in our portfolio,” he said. adding that solar is part of it alongside wind, water, nuclear and fossil fuels.

Greg Canfield, secretary, Alabama Department of Commerce, asked attendees to see the new facility in terms everyone can understand. “It’s another form of farming,” he said, “and I want to thank everyone involved including Clenera, Walmart and Alabama Power. Walmart is a driving force in job creation in Alabama.”

Canfield commended Walmart for having a commitment toward renewable, sustainable energy.

Canfield singled out Valerie Gray and the Chambers County Development Authority in having marshaled the project along.

“We are thrilled to have all of you in LaFayette today,” said Commission Chairman Charlie Williams. “This is a special day for our county. We are very grateful for this investment in our county. It will have a positive economic impact on Chambers County and will generate funds for our school system. This is the start of a great partnership, and we appreciate all of you being here.”

“We hope you enjoy your time here in LaFayette today,” said Mayor Barry Moody. “We are celebrating a very important milestone for our community. We were thrilled when we heard it was coming here. It’s now the largest one in Alabama and we are so proud of that. We want to thank Swinerton and Clenera. They have invested their time and resources in being here. We thank everyone who worked here and supported our local businesses. We are excited about where we are and look forward to more good things happening here.”