9 advanced energy trends in Arkansas in 2019

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. – Innovation, declining costs and favorable policies are helping to drive the deployment of advanced energy solutions in Arkansas, the Arkansas Advanced Energy Association reported today in a review of 2019 announcements and trends.

“2019 has been an exciting year in Arkansas’s advanced energy economy,” said Katie Laning Niebaum, AAEA Executive Director. “We continue to see a growing demand for advanced energy technologies, which we know creates career opportunities, secures local community investment and generates energy savings for Arkansans. The advanced energy economy, led by AAEA’s innovative business leaders, is an increasingly important economic driver in our state with tremendous opportunity ahead.”

Here are a few stories and trends that made 2019 a milestone year in Arkansas’s advanced energy sector:

  1.  Arkansas Legislature backs pro-advanced energy policies. During the 2019 Regular Session of the General Assembly, AAEA members worked with legislators to secure passage of three advanced energy priority bills now signed into law, the Solar Access Act (Act 464) and two additional bills to enhance the state’s successful Energy Performance Contracting program (Act 507 and Act 1090). These measures, which took effect in July, already are spurring greater adoption of advanced energy solutions, particularly with a wave of cities, counties and school districts seeking to deploy solar and energy efficiency technologies. As Governor Asa Hutchinson told business leaders and supporters gathered at the Solar Access Act’s ceremonial bill signing in April, this legislation means Arkansas is “open for business.”
  2.  Arkansas among leading states for solar job growth. The Solar Foundation reported in March that Arkansas’s advanced energy economy added 85 new solar jobs last year. 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. Third-party solar leasing (enabled by Act 464, which took effect July 24 after overwhelming bipartisan support from state legislators) could double or triple the number of solar jobs in Arkansas, according to analysis from the Business Innovations Legal Clinic of the William H. Bowen School of Law, University of Arkansas at Little Rock.
  3.  Solar deployment continues to build momentum. Arkansas had its biggest year of solar installation ever last year, according to a GMT Research and the Solar Energy Industries Association market report released in March. Arkansas added the 18th most solar projects among the 50 states last year, adding 118 megawatts of solar generation. Additionally, Arkansas recorded the largest annual increase in the number of net metering systems ever. AAEA’s review of annual electric utility filings with the Arkansas Public Service Commission found a total of 1,508 net metering systems as of December 31, 2018, a 520-net increase over the end-of-2017 number of 988 systems (a 52.6% increase). Most systems are solar (both rooftop and ground mounted), with a few solar-wind and wind-only systems.
  4.  Arkansas’s energy efficiency workforce grows to 15,000+. Energy efficiency jobs account for the largest sector of the state’s advanced energy economy. Under the state’s Energy Efficiency Resource Standard, utility energy efficiency programs have proven to be an important economic driver for Arkansas and advanced energy technologies. Earlier this year, the Commission approved utilities’ 2020-2022 energy efficiency plans, which will implement enhanced goals for electric utilities. Concurring with AAEA and others, the Commission had ordered a savings target of 1.2% of baseline energy sales from 2020 through 2022 for electric utilities, a significant increase from the previous efficiency goal of 1%. Savings target for gas utilities were maintained at 1% of baseline sales for 2020-2022.
  5.  Arkansas Energy Performance Contracting continues as major economic development vehicle. Thirty-six projects have been fully executed or are in active development, guaranteeing over $375 million in energy savings for public clients, according to the Arkansas Energy Office. The program is driving a marked increase in public building efficiency. From an energy perspective, the projects executed by the AEPC program are saving the consumption equivalent of over 12,000 homes a year annually. In November, UAMS broke ground on the state’s largest AEPC project to date, a $150 million project executed with Bernhard Energy.
  6.  Energy storage emerges in Arkansas. The City of Fayetteville flipped the switch in September on a 20-MW solar + 24-MW storage project, one of the largest projects of its kind in the Mid-South, completed by Today’s Power. Entergy Arkansas is seeking approval from the Commission for a 100-MW solar + storage (up to 30 MW hours of electricity) facility near Searcy. Scenic Hill Solar last month announced plans to build a 26-MW DC solar power plant combined with up to 40 MWh of energy storage capacity at Producers Rice Mill in Stuttgart. Energy storage will be an increasingly utilized technology in the state as the economics continue to trend in a favorable direction.  
  7.  Utility companies pursue renewable energy projects. Entergy Arkansas broke ground earlier this month on its 100-MW solar facility in Chicot County, while SWEPCO announced plans to add 810 megawatts of wind energy to its resource mix.
  8.  Ouachita Electric Cooperative seeks rate decrease for all members. At AAEA’s annual conference in October, Ouachita Electric Cooperative General Manager Mark Cayce announced plans for the state’s first utility-wide electricity rate decrease, enabled by savings generated by solar and energy efficiency initiatives. “When you can add solar and add jobs and lower prices,” said Cayce, “everybody wins.”
  9.  State regulators keep active with advanced energy dockets. The Commission’s “Distributed Energy Resources and Grid Modernization” proceeding (Docket No. 16-028-U) began in earnest this year, convening stakeholders for three educational workshops, with a fourth workshop scheduled for January 2020. The Commission is looking at how to prepare Arkansas’s electric customers and utilities for the penetration of DERs such as solar power, battery storage, smart thermostats and other energy efficiency and demand-response measures, electric vehicles, and smart appliances that are reaching the marketplace in larger volumes and constantly declining prices. The Commission’s goal is to identify and remove non-price barriers to the adoption of new technologies that can be economic winners in the energy market. In the Net Metering proceeding (Docket No. 16-027-R), the Commission held a Phase 3 hearing in early December to consider rate structures pending evaluation since 2017 and rule changes amidst Act 464, which made changes to the state’s net-metering law. An additional hearing, for public comments only, has been scheduled for February 19, 2020. The timing of a subsequent order is unknown.

The Arkansas Advanced Energy Association is the business voice for advanced energy in Arkansas. AAEA is dedicated to growing Arkansas’s economy through expanded utilization of advanced energy technologies, including energy efficiency, demand response, natural gas electric generation, solar, wind, hydro, nuclear, electric vehicles, alternative fuels and smart grid. These are innovations that make our energy supply more secure, clean and affordable. Visit ArkansasAdvancedEnergy.com; find us on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.