LITTLE ROCK, Ark. – As a rule, business interests and environmental advocates rarely agree, but a new solar-power access plan in Arkansas may be the exception.
Backed by support from conservationists such as the Audubon Society and industry groups such as the Arkansas Advanced Energy Association, state lawmakers have approved a bill that makes it easier to access and deploy solar energy.
Gary Moody, interim executive director of Audubon Arkansas, said solar energy’s low-carbon footprint, along with its ability to create jobs, brought everyone together.
“We stressed that this is a market-based solution, where we’ve got a product now, in clean energy – particularly with solar – that is cost effective, that can save people money and provide cleaner air and water,” he said, “and so, we look at this as a big win-win.”
The measure officially becomes law next week. Moody said it allows for third-party purchasing, which means a resident or business can lease a solar-energy system. It also will increase the solar size limit and adds grandfathering to protect customers from future rate increases.
Katie Niebaum, executive director of the Arkansas Advanced Energy Association, said solar energy has been growing in Arkansas, but until now, the state’s regulatory structure has slowed it down.
“Arkansas currently is one of only a handful of states that does not allow third-party financing options or leasing,” she said, “and that has inhibited Arkansas from realizing its full solar potential and solar job growth.”
Moody said the new law will give Arkansans easier access to cheap, clean and environmentally friendly solar energy.
“Arkansas has the 11th best solar resource in the country – days and hours of sunshine falling on each square foot here in Arkansas,” he said. “There’s a tremendous potential, but Arkansas has lagged near the back of the pack in actual solar installation.”
While the new bill overcame two major regulatory hurdles to solar expansion, Moody said, further negotiations are needed on other issues, including rooftop solar and net metering.
The text of Senate Bill 145 is online at arkleg.state.ar.us.
Mark Richardson, Public News Service – AR