Pulaski County touts green initiatives, joins Natural State’s growing list of sun-power projects

by Wesley Brown ([email protected]) 779 views 

Six months after state lawmakers passed the Solar Access Act of 2019, Pulaski County joins a growing list of Arkansas counties and cities looking toward sun power to cut energy costs and produce greener electricity.

Pulaski County Judge Barry Hyde on Thursday (Oct. 10) announced a 20-year pact with Today’s Power Inc. (TPI) to develop and install solar panels at the Little Rock Port Industrial Park and Pulaski County Justice Complex. That project is part of the county’s two-prong environmental initiative designed to improve the quality of life in the county by protecting public safety and reducing energy costs, said Hyde.

The first step of the initiative is a just-completed road and bridge test project on 1.2 miles of Lawson Road in west Pulaski County using tire rubber-modified asphalt produced by Houston-based Wright Asphalt Products. The test will determine the use of recycled tires as a component of asphalt paving and maintaining, officials said.

“Pulaski County is undertaking this test project as an environmentally responsible way to keep our roads safe and smooth,” Hyde said in a statement. “Waste tires are a major environmental concern. Anything we can do to lessen this concern while providing a new market for recycled tires, while at the same time effectively maintain our county roads and bridges, is common sense. And, it’s the right thing to do.”

The contractor for the Lawson Road test project is Cranford Construction of Little Rock. The road paving project was completed in September at a cost of more than $192,000, officials said, and will be evaluated each year to compare wear-and-tear in comparison to traditional asphalt.

Pulaski County is also working with Today’s Power Inc. to provide 8 megawatts (MW) of solar power for county use. TPI, the wholly owned renewable energy subsidiary of Arkansas Electric Cooperatives Inc., will finance, operate and own 100% of the sun-tracking solar arrays on nearly 40 acres at the Port Authority’s industrial park and 12 acres at the county’s Justice Complex.

Under the 20-year power purchase agreement, the county will buy electricity generated by the arrays at 4.9 cents per kilowatt hour over 20 years. The project is expected to generate between 80% and 100% of the county’s electric demand with expected savings at approximately $150,000 in the first year.

“We here in the South know full well the power of the sun,” said Hyde. “When used to generate electricity, solar power is the most reliable, renewable, and affordable energy source there is. And, using an array of solar panels will not only reduce the use of fossil fuels to generate electricity, it will save money.”

The Pulaski County solar project is part of TPI’s growing renewable energy portfolio in Arkansas and across the sun-friendly Southeast U.S. TPI was formed in 2014 to provide cost-effective, state-of-the-art products in solar generation technology and other energy management options. Little Rock-based AECI is the utility service operation for the Arkansas Electric Cooperative Corp., the 17-member electric distribution cooperative that provides electricity to approximately 500,000 homes, farms and businesses in Arkansas and surrounding states.

“We are so honored to partner with Pulaski County and the Little Rock Port Authority to add clean renewable solar energy to power their operations,” said TPI President Michael Henderson. “This project reflects the great vision and a true desire to modernize the image of Pulaski County and the Little Rock Port Authority by taking a giant step in sustainability. We hope this renewable resource provides economic stimulus that will provide long-term benefit to Pulaski County and central Arkansas for many years to come.”

Besides the new sun-fueled project in the state’s largest county by population, TPI is also leading construction of the state’s largest solar array on city-owned land in Fayetteville. That $23 million, 10-megawatt system began operating earlier this summer. The AECI subsidiary has also helped to develop utility-scale solar or storage ventures at 11 of the 17 local electric cooperatives in Arkansas, including in projects in Holly Springs, Camden, Arkadelphia and Forrest City.

Hyde said the Pulaski County solar project was made possible by Act 464 of 2019, the new law approved by the Arkansas General Assembly earlier this year following seven-weeks of committee debate and signed by Gov. Asa Hutchinson in April. Among other things, the new act allows third-party financing for those looking to use solar energy, including nonprofits and non-tax entities such as schools, churches, cities and counties, colleges and universities and other state agencies.

The earlier law didn’t allow these same entities to benefit from federal incentives, such as the federal tax credit and accelerated depreciation that can reduce the cost of a solar array. With the option for a third-party solar services contract, the public and non-tax entities can also take advantage of federal incentives that expire at the end of 2019.