by Kyle Massey
Solar power advocates pushing legislation to promote home- and business-based sun generation are marshaling more evidence that a bill before the state Senate could help spur a jobs boom and a billion-dollar investment rush in Arkansas solar installation.
The legislation, Senate Bill 145, would allow third-party leasing of solar equipment under the state’s net metering program, letting homeowners, businesses and nonprofits partner with solar companies in arrays that could significantly cut energy bills.
SB145 is expected to be brought up for further debate in committee on Tuesday at the state Capitol.
Net metering is the accounting method utilities use to give solar customers credit for the excess energy they put onto the electrical grid. The rates that utilities should pay for that power, as opposed to the price they charge solar customers for the energy they consume at night or on cloudy days, has been at issue before the state Public Service Commission for three years. Recently, utilities have lobbied for legislative control of the ratemaking process.
Now the Business Innovations Legal Clinic of the William H. Bowen School of Law in Little Rock is calculating that third-party solar leasing could double or triple the number of solar power jobs in Arkansas.
Audubon Arkansas has been vocal in its support of the net-metering bill, and Interim Executive Director Gary Moody told Arkansas Business late Friday, “We’re delighted that this report confirms what we have been saying for some time. Removing access barriers to solar in Arkansas is a win-win for both the people and the birds of Arkansas.”
The legal clinic, in conjunction with the Arkansas Small Business Tech Development Center at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, noted that the solar economy created 85 new jobs in Arkansas in 2018, ranking the state last. This number is disappointing considering that the amount of solar energy connected to the nationwide grid has increased 38-fold since 2008.
“States with third-party leasing have two or more times the number of solar jobs than states without,” said the report, called “2019 Snapshot of Findings: Potential Effects of Third-Party Solar Leasing in Arkansas.”
Arkansas had 284 solar-industry jobs in fiscal year 2018; Mississippi, with a similar population, had more than three times that many jobs, 924.
“Kansas, which also allows for leasing and has almost the same population as Arkansas, has created 538 jobs, almost double that of Arkansas,” the report said.
The Bowen Law analysts estimated that third-party leasing could spur direct investment potential of $1 billion in the state and serve as a “gateway drug” to create a domino effect to bring additional renewable energy projects. They added that third-party leasing will bring energy savings for consumers and increase demand for building solar arrays.
“In Arkansas, solar panels have saved homeowners $71.31 monthly, for an annual savings of $855.71 on average,” the report said. “This brings the monthly electricity bill of the average Arkansan down” from about $110 a month to about $37. The analysts also found that third-party leasing would remove a significant barrier to solar adoption: the upfront costs.
“Third-party leasing leasing would make solar systems more affordable for the average Arkansan by lowering upfront costs approximately 25-40 percent,” the report concluded.