by Kyle Massey
The Arkansas Advanced Energy Association honored its outgoing executive director, welcomed his successor and heard an update on advances in energy conservation in Arkansas at the trade group’s fifth annual meeting and policy conference Tuesday in Little Rock.
The AAEA, which advocates economic growth through promoting advanced and renewable energy, also presented its top annual prize, the Ron Bell Advanced Energy Leadership Award, to two recipients. That was the result of an unprecedented “unbreakable tie” in the selection process, according to Beth Hood, chairwoman of the Arkansas Advanced Energy Foundation, the AAEA’s educational affiliate.
The award, named for the AAEF’s founding chairman, Ron Bell, went to Ron Hughes, former coordinator of sustainability and energy sector programs at Pulaski Technical College, and Orlo Stitt, founder of Stitt Energy Systems Inc. and a longtime builder of Energy Star efficiency homes in northwest Arkansas.
The awards program came after a standing ovation for Executive Director Steve Patterson, the founding chief who was presiding over his final conference as head of the group, which was founded in 2011 and now has more than 80 members, including organizations that account for two-third’s of employment in Arkansas’ advanced energy sector.
Patterson, who spent most of his career as a chief of staff and adviser for members of Congress, including former U.S. Sen. Blanche Lincoln, will remain with the AAEA full-time through the end of the month, but has already handed the reins to Little Rock native Katie Laning Niebaum, who thanked Patterson from the podium.
“These are some big shoes I have to fill,” she said in closing remarks at the Embassy Suites Hotel.
Niebaum, a graduate of Central High School and the University of Virginia, officially joined the AAEA and AAEF on Oct. 3 after more than five years at the National Restaurant Association in Washington, the last two as its vice president of communications and media relations.
Tuesday’s keynote speaker was Katherine Johnson, president of Johnson Consulting Group and the independent monitor of Arkansas’ utility energy efficiency programs.
Johnson said Arkansas has become a national leader in promoting energy efficiency, and in monitoring and evaluating its progress. She said colleagues who once mocked Arkansas’ efficiency efforts now emulate them, and that while describing the state’s progress at a conference in Berlin, she had to give her audience some details about the state, which is little-known in Germany.
“I had to show them a picture of Bill and Hillary Clinton, because they’re the only people Germans know who are from Arkansas,” Johnson said. “I also told them Arkansas is the size of Greece, but that it has a much better economy.”
The AAEA also presented its annual report to members, outlining efforts in promoting renewable energy in the Arkansas Public Service Commission’s review of net-metering rules for Arkansans who generate their own power, and developments in the Energy Performance Contracting Program, its Public Utility Energy Efficiency Programs and the Property Assessed Clean Energy effort.
PACE is a program that allows residents to get loans for renewable energy projects through special improvement districts and pay them off via additions to their property tax bills.