by Kyle Massey
The Arkansas Advanced Energy Association toasted the state’s sustainable power and energy efficiency leaders Tuesday at the trade group’s Empowering Arkansas conference, honoring Seal Energy Solutions of North Little Rock twice, and giving its top leadership award to founding partner Chris Ladner of Entegrity.
There was even a shout-out to the inventor of the light bulb, Thomas Alva Edison.
The AAEA, which promotes advanced energy technologies and companies in the sustainability and energy efficiency field, presented the awards at a luncheon and daylong conference at Heifer International in Little Rock.
Ladner, who started the Little Rock sustainability and energy services company Entegrity in 2007 as Viridian, took the Ron Bell Advanced Energy Leadership Award, which goes to an individual for “outstanding and consistent contributions to Arkansas’ advanced energy industry.”
In 2013, Ladner was the U.S. Green Building Council’s first LEED Fellow in Arkansas, and he was a consultant for the Clinton Climate Initiative and a member of the Arkansas Governor’s Commission on Global Warming.
Other finalists for the award, named for former Arkansas Advanced Energy Foundation Chairman Ron Bell, were solar activist and farmer A.J. Hood of Tillar and Alan Mantooth, a University of Arkansas professor of electrical engineering.
Seal Solutions took the Advanced Energy Business Innovation Award, and Josh Davenport, its CEO, won the Advanced Energy Rising Star Award. “I wrote the nomination for him,” Seal President Heather Nelson said, “and I couldn’t be prouder.” Davenport, for his part, was beaming but a little crimson-faced. “I don’t love all the attention, but I’m very proud of the honor,” he said.
Seal has grown from a two-person operation six years ago to an enterprise that had $6.4 million in revenue in 2017, and Davenport was also praised as a vocal advocate of solar power and renewable energy in the net metering and distributed generation rule-making that has been in motion at the Arkansas Public Service Commission for two years.
Davenport’s fellow finalists for the Rising Star Award were Jennah Denney, marketing and PR coordinator for Today’s Power of Little Rock, which builds small utility-scale solar arrays for the state’s electric cooperatives and others; Nick Gorden, CEO of Shine Solar of Bentonville, another sun power provider; Parker Higgs, director of energy engineering for Entegrity; and Alex Ray, business development executive for Johnson Controls in Little Rock.
Seal’s competitors for the innovation award were Shine Solar; Today’s Power; Johnson Controls; ACE Glass Manufacturing Inc. of Little Rock, whose new headquarters near the airport is powered by solar energy; Ozark Integrated Circuits, a Fayetteville company specializing in robust electronics; and Solar & Renewable Power Systems, a division of Paradoxe Corp. of Jackson, Tennessee.
The meeting and policy conference was presented by Powers of Arkansas, along with partner sponsors Entegrity and Today’s Power. Program sponsors included Arkansas Oklahoma Gas, Oklahoma Gas & Electric, Clear Energy of Fayetteville and CleaResult, a leader in designing technology-enabled energy efficiency programs for utilities.
The energy industry leaders, educators and advocates also heard from the two candidates for the 2nd Congressional District seat in Congress, U.S. Rep. French Hill and Democratic challenger Clarke Tucker, both of Little Rock. Other speakers and program leaders included Michael Hester, the superintendent who led solar adoption at the Batesville School District; Mark Lundy, the director of South Arkansas Telephone Co., another solar-powered enterprise; Mark Cayce of Ouachita Electric Cooperative Corp.; Sherry McCormack, energy efficiency manager of Swepco; John Ware, director of energy efficiency at AOG; and Keith Canfield, portfolio manager of CleaResult.
Lamar Davis, executive director of government and regulatory affairs at MISO, joined Entergy’s regulatory research chief Andrew Owens and Ted Thomas, chairman of the Arkansas Public Service Commission, to spotlight advances in battery storage and other distributed energy resources.
In the keynote address, renewable energy executive and former Democratic National Committee Chairman David Wilhelm recalled his days in Little Rock 26 years ago as a leader of Bill Clinton’s presidential campaign, then plunged further into history.
Wilhelm, now a partner at renewable energy developer Hecate Energy, which is building a 400-megawatt solar project for American Electric Power in Ohio and is working on renewable projects in Africa, recalled the competition more than a century ago between Edison and his direct current electricity distribution systems vs. Nikola Tesla and the advocates of alternating current.
Wilhelm noted that Edison was an early believer in solar power, battery power storage and locally centered power generation. His vision for direct current localized on the household level did not win the “Battle of the Currents,” but its basics appeal to sustainable power advocates today, Wilhelm said, especially considering that Tesla’s alternating current left a legacy of huge power plants pushing electricity through hundreds of miles of transmission lines to faraway homes and businesses.
“Edison was an early believer in renewable energy and battery storage, thinking they could power homes off the grid,” Wilhelm said. “There was no grid! He had a picture of a windmill recharging electric batteries, and even worked with Henry Ford on an electric automobile.”
But Edison was ahead of his time, and the technology of the day failed him, Wilhem said. “But is technology now catching up with Thomas Edison’s vision? We’re finding out now. Edison lost the battle 100 years ago, but he hasn’t lost the war.”