by Wesley Brown
Gov. Asa Hutchinson and his Democratic Party opponent Jared Henderson got a chance on Tuesday (Oct. 9) to share their visions on Arkansas energy policy before an audience of some of the state’s top advanced energy industry leaders and policymakers.
Both Hutchinson and Henderson, along with 2nd District congressional candidates Rep. French Hill, R-Little Rock, and Democratic Congressional nominee Clarke Tucker, were special guests at the Arkansas Advanced Energy Association’s (AAEA) 7th annual meeting and policy conference held at Heifer International’s downtown headquarters.
Henderson, the first to speak, told the group of utility and energy executives, state regulators and policymakers and industry leaders that if elected governor his priorities would be addressing public education, rising healthcare costs, economic development, and pervasive child poverty.
“And you might ask, ‘Why am I talking to a group of energy leaders about this particular set of problems,’“ Henderson asked rhetorically. “And the reason is because if we addressed some of these fundamental conditions and create context for more of our children and our families starting out at a better spot in life, we have a fighting shot at development of a better workforce, great new businesses for the next generation and more empowered and capable consumers, whether it is for energy or any other industry.”
After talking about his policy positions, the Democratic Party gubernatorial candidate closed his brief speech by noting that that he work will the policymakers and industry leaders in Arkansas to be better stewards of the energy sector.
“When I think about what our legacy as a generation can be over the next 25 or 30 years, I think finding a way to hand our children an energy system in this state … that is not only a driver of economic development and incredible jobs, but is also a system that enhances our national security that stewards what our kids deserve on the environment, I think, is the single most powerful endeavor we can take on,” said the former educator.
About 15 minutes after Henderson spoke and exited the forum, Gov. Hutchinson arrived to offer his comments on the state’s energy sector. In his pitch to the group, Hutchinson highlighted his strong relations with the energy industry, offering specific details on jobs he has recruited to Arkansas in the renewable and advanced energy sector.
“I look at what you are doing in terms of alternative energy, advance energy – it’s important for our state and that we are engaged in it,” said Hutchinson, citing the fact that many foreign and out-of-state companies that he recruits to the U.S. such as L’Oreal and Aerojet Rocketdyne are interested in conservation and alternative energy sources.
Hutchinson also boasted that in 2017, more than 770 advanced energy companies are now doing business in Arkansas worth more than 16,000 employees and sales of $1.7 billion. “That shows the growth of your sector and the opportunities that are there,” he said.
At the end of his speech, Hutchinson asked the energy executives and leaders for their support of his recently proposed government transformation and reorganization plan, which would shrink the number of cabinet-level state agencies from 42 to 15 if approved by the General Assembly in the upcoming 2019 legislative session.
He also highlighted details of his plan to create a new Department of Energy and Environment, which would bring the state Public Service Commission, the Arkansas Department of Environment Quality and the state Oil & Gas Commission and other associated agencies under one umbrella department.
As ADEQ Director Becky Keogh and PSC Chairman Ted Thomas and Commissioners Elena Wills and Kim O’Guinn looked on, Hutchinson gave his assurance that the agencies in the new Energy and Environment department would retain their authority and autonomy.
“I hope that you recognize this as something that we will better and improved in the delivery of services, a better management approach over time, and some efficiencies that will be gained that will be good for the taxpayers as well,” said Hutchinson, who will square off against Henderson again this weekend in a televised debate on the Arkansas Education Television Network (AETN).
Besides the political speeches, the all-day energy summit at Heifer International included panel discussions on critical policy issues facing the advanced energy sector, including the growing demand for renewable and alternative energy sources, innovative energy efficiency initiatives across Arkansas and a ready landscape for new energy-related technologies.
David Wilhelm, chief strategy officer for Chicago-based Hecate Energy was AAEA’s keynote luncheon speaker at the annual event. AAEA leadership also handed out the nonprofit group’s 2018 Arkansas Advanced Energy Awards winners at the end of the program.