by Chris Price

Each month, Arkansas Money & Politics will profile three professional associations to explore the business, industry, governmental and not-for-profit agencies impacting law, commerce and goodwill across the state. The magazine will tell their stories to give readers a better understanding of who they are, where they stand and the positions they are backing.

Arkansas Advanced Energy Association

One only need look at the tremendous strides being made in solar energy advances at the University of Arkansas and the products and companies that have developed based off that research to know how fast the market is expanding. And that’s in just one corner of the state. As the technology for non-traditional fuel sources has improved and lowered costs, the demand for secure, clean and affordable energy has increased. So, too, have the number of advanced energy companies and their need for a collective voice.

“The Arkansas Advanced Energy Association is dedicated to growing Arkansas’ economy through expanded utilization of advanced energy technologies and efficiencies, including solar, wind and hydro-electric power generation, electric vehicles, alternative fuels and a smart electrical grid,” says AAEA Executive Director Katie Niebaum. “We represent utilities companies and professionals, including engineers, architects, startup entrepreneurs and those involved and interested in the advanced energy economy, which represent an industry of about 25,000 employees and a $2.8 billion economic impact across the state.”

Founded in 2012, the association engages in policy advocacy at the federal and state levels and works with the Arkansas Public Service Commission on regulatory issues. Niebaum says the AAEA secured two key policy wins with the passage of the Solar Access and Arkansas Energy Performance Contracting Enhancement acts during the legislature’s 92nd General Assembly this spring.

The Solar Access Act removed restrictions on third-party financing for those looking to add solar technology, which is particularly important for non-tax entities, such as schools, churches, cities and counties, colleges and universities, state agencies and non-profit organizations. With the option of a third-party solar services contract, non-tax entities can take full advantage of federal incentives and lower the cost of their solar array.

Its approval could double or triple the number of solar jobs in Arkansas, according to a recent analysis from the Business Innovations Legal Clinic of the William H. Bowen School of Law at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock.

The second bill eliminated a 20-year maximum term on public entities’ energy contracts, which will allow a guaranteed energy cost savings contract to be extended if its active equipment warranty or combined useful life is in excess of 20 years.

Both bills are expected to further spur energy efficiency and renewable energy projects in an already growing sector.

“Arkansas already is among the fastest-growing states for solar job creation,” Niebaum says. “Arkansas’ solar jobs numbered 369 in 2018 as compared to 284 solar jobs in 2017 – a 30 percent increase. Only five states saw a higher year-over-year growth rate.

“In addition, the state had its biggest year of solar installation ever in 2018. Arkansas ranked No. 18 for the most solar projects among the 50 states last year, adding 118 megawatts of solar generation.”