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Solar farm could energize Sunnyside development

The group behind the project believes it offers residents healthier food, cheaper energy and means to keep it going by themselves.

HOUSTON — Eight miles south of downtown, Sunnyside’s old, overgrown 240-acre landfill undeveloped for decades is going to become a farm and perhaps Houston’s newest energy hub.

“It’s really (going to) become a destination just like we used to go to Astroworld,” Efrem Jernigan, president of South Union Development. “People are going to come here internationally to see the Ag Hub.”

The group behind the project includes people from the Sunnyside community. They won international bidding to develop the site without digging.

Jernigan grew up here and got the idea through his STEM Foundation that offers children struggling in school with math less intimidating ways to learn through solar projects like the one Jernigan installed on his dad’s home.

“Yeah, that was a surprise,” John Jernigan said.

“When we start teaching solar in increments of thousands, kids were catching it,” Efrem Jernigan said. “If it works, expound upon it.”

Two doors down, they added outdoor aquaponics. Every Saturday, more than 80 children enrolled in the program are able to learn how plants grow in plastic tubes. None have soil. The plants rely on nutrients from clay pellets and water from fish habitats.

Next month, the group plans to add classes inside a shipping container. Within a year, they want a dozen more on the old landfill site. Eventually, there will be a learning hub, a 70-megawatt solar array to power 12,000 homes and a 220-acre solar farm worked by military veterans who will have homes built nearby too.

“When you have homeless veterans, this is an opportunity to address that issue also,” said Ronald O’Neil, a partner in the project.

The group believes the project offers residents healthier food, cheaper energy and means to keep it going by themselves.

“There’s so much darkness and blight in the 6th most dangerous neighborhood in the U.S. and all of a sudden we can bring light through solar,” Efrem Jernigan said.

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