by Kyle Massey
Wednesday was Arkansas Advanced Energy Day at the state Capitol, as decreed by Gov. Asa Hutchinson, who marshaled some impressive economic development numbers in his declaration.
“There is clear evidence that advanced energy technologies are producing jobs, saving energy and expanding the Arkansas economy,” the governor said. Energy efficiency, solar, wind and alternative fuel companies employ more than 16,000 workers and have annual sales of more than $1.7 billion in Arkansas.
“Another 9,300 advanced energy jobs” are in related industries accounting for another $1.1 billion in sales, the governor said, making the industry’s full economic output in the state $2.8 billion, according to an analysis by the Arkansas Economic Development Institute at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock.
The Arkansas Advanced Energy Association marked the occasion with a breakfast gathering at Arkansas State University’s offices at Woodlane and Capitol, then company exhibits in the Capitol Rotunda. The event’s annual lead sponsors were Advanced Energy Economy, Entegrity, Powers of Arkansas, Energy Efficiency Design & Development, Johnson Controls, Seal Energy Solutions, Silicon Ranch and FutureFuel Chemical Co.
FutureFuel Chief Technology Officer Gary McChesney was on hand to talk about how biodiesel has become the biggest revenue producer for his 500-employee chemical operation in Batesville. Formerly owned by Eastman Kodak and then Eastman Chemical, FutureFuel first experimented in 2005 with making biodiesel, an alternative fuel produced from vegetable oil, animal oil and fats, tallow and waste cooking oil. In that first year, the plant shipped out one truckload of biodiesel. The next year they made a couple of million gallons, and now FutureFuel produces well over 50 million gallons a year, McChesney said.
“We’ve had ups and downs but it has become a steady business for us,” he said. “It now is our largest single source of revenue,” generating half of the company’s revenue last year. The publicly traded company (NYSE: FF), with a market capitalization of nearly $812 million, has its corporate headquarters in Clayton, Missouri, a St. Louis suburb, but the Batesville plant is its primary facility.
Today’s Power President Michael Henderson talked about the busy schedule ahead for his solar development firm, a wholly owned subsidiary of Arkansas Electric Cooperatives Inc. Today’s Power of Little Rock has built more than two-dozen small utility-scale solar power arrays for Arkansas electric cooperatives and other businesses. “We’re breaking ground tomorrow on one of the biggest solar and battery storage projects in the South,” Henderson said, referring to a project in Fayetteville designed to help the city meet its push to power all municipal operations with 100 percent clean energy by 2030.
The city committed $560,000 in initial capital to partner with Today’s Power and Ozarks Electric Cooperative of Fayetteville for a pair of photovoltaic arrays and battery storage systems large enough to power two municipal water treatment plants.
Today’s Power is managing construction and will operate the systems under a 20-year deal for 10 megawatts of generation capability and 24 megawatts of storage capacity. The city expects to save $6 million in energy costs over the 20 years. “It’s a big project,” Henderson said, “and we have lots of others for the rest of the year.”
Other Today’s Power projects already approved for 2019 include a 1.4-megawatt arrays for Farmers Electric Cooperative in Newport, South Central Arkansas Electric Cooperative in Arkadelphia, Southwest Arkansas Electric Cooperative in Texarkana, C&L Electric Cooperative in Star City (Lincoln County), and Clay County Electric Cooperative in Corning.
Today’s Power also plans to build a 1.8-megawatt tracking array for the city of Paris (Logan County).