4. COAL DECLINES; SOLAR SHINES
Arkansas’ electric utilities swapped black carbon for bright sunshine, dipping below 50 percent in reliance on coal for power generation in 2018.
And plans call for coal to stay on the shelf.
“No new coal, I think we can make that declaration,” said Andrew Lachowsky, vice president of planning and market operations for Arkansas Electric Cooperative Corp., noting an industrywide turn toward renewables and low-cost natural gas generation.
The state’s electric co-ops still use coal for more than half of their power, but it provided just 47 percent of total state power in September, the U.S. Energy Information Administration reported. Gas generation was 28 percent; nuclear power 17 percent, all from Entergy’s Nuclear One at Russellville; hydroelectric, solar and wind renewables together made up about 7 percent.
Entergy, with 700,000 customers in Arkansas, got just 4 percent of its electricity from coal plants this year, down from nearly 20 percent a decade ago. Southwest Electric Power Co., serving 120,000 meters in west Arkansas, gets 45 percent of its power from coal, and that total is falling.
“We have RFPs out now for more solar resources, and we’re looking to do these about every year,” said Kurt Castleberry, Entergy Arkansas’ resource planning chief.
Sued by environmentalists, Entergy agreed to shut down its two coal plants — in Redfield and Newark — by the end of 2030, even though Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge threatened the settlement with a suggestion that abandoning coal could cost ratepayers. Entergy’s cost modeling says otherwise.
Entergy is tapping the state’s largest solar array, the 88-megawatt Stuttgart Solar, operated by Nextera Energy Resources. The companies are partners in an even bigger array, a 100-megawatt Chicot County project to go on line in 2019.
AECC, whose wholesale power reaches 500,000 Arkansas homes and businesses, plans to buy power from a 100-megawatt system near Crossett and get 100 megawatts of wind power from a turbine project in Oklahoma. A 100-megawatt source can power about 1.5 percent of Arkansas’ meters.
Companies like Entegrity, Today’s Power Inc. and former Lt. Gov. Bill Halter’s Scenic Hill Solar, all of Little Rock, and Seal Energy Solutions of North Little Rock had a big year installing solar projects at businesses, schools, government facilities and even farms.
They say a pending Public Service Commission decision could set the tone for solar next year. The utility regulators are setting rates for the state’s “net-metering” customers, who create their own power. Advocates say a favorable return for these few solar customers — up 56 percent from 633 to 988 in calendar 2017, the last year of available data — is crucial for spurring sales to customers who use their energy savings to pay for their rooftop systems.