Solar bringing jobs, savings and investment to Arkansas

by Jennah Denney ([email protected]) 947 views 

In our state, the solar industry has a tremendous chance to become an increasingly important economic driver. The following figures further demonstrate the increasing demand for advanced energy resources that create jobs, secure local investment and generate energy savings for Arkansans.

According to GMT Research and the latest market report from the Solar Energy Industries Association, Arkansas had its biggest year of solar installations ever in 2018. In addition to 118 megawatts of solar generation, the state added the 18th largest solar project in 50 states last year, and the first solar-coupled battery energy storage system in the Mid-South.

Arkansas has recorded the largest annual increase in the number of net metering systems ever. The Arkansas Advanced Energy Association’s review of annual electric utility filings with the Arkansas Public Service Commission found a total of 1,508 net metering systems as of Dec. 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.

This increase in solar installations is directly tied to the fact that solar saves. Throughout the country, the average cost per kilowatt hour is around 7 cents to 10 cents. At rates around 5.5 cents per kWh, the average solar costs per kWh are about 30% to 40% lower than the grid rates depending on the location of your solar site and how it’s interconnected.

The Ouachita Electric Cooperative Board reported that it had approved an application for 4.5% lower rates to the Arkansas Public Service Commission in the fourth quarter of 2019 due to an increase in solar activity in its area. Over the last few years, the cooperative has worked to reduce demand costs by adding solar in partnership with large commercial and residential members.

According to General Manager, Mark Cayce, “Ouachita has a working model of low cost solar energy leading to job creation, economic expansion, and lower rates for all members. Using clean, low cost, solar power everybody wins.”

As we are seeing in South Arkansas, increased solar activity leads to positive economic advantages for our state. On Feb. 27, Gov. Asa Hutchinson declared that the Feb. 27 would be Arkansas Advanced Energy Day. According to recent studies, it has been proven that advanced energy technologies are generating jobs, energy savings, and have the potential to expand the Arkansas economy.

Arkansas is among the leading states for solar job growth, according to The Solar Foundation’s 2018 National Solar Jobs Census. In 2018, 85 solar new jobs were added to Arkansas’ renewable energy economy. In 2018, there were 369 Arkansas solar jobs compared to 284 in 2017 — a 30% increase. Just five states have seen a higher annual growth rate.

Third-party solar leasing was enabled by Act 464, which took effect July 24 after overwhelming bipartisan support from state legislators. It 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. This new law not only allows third-party leasing, but also increased the commercial solar size limit to 1,000 kW (1 MW) from 300 kW.

Last, but not least, battery energy storage systems are becoming increasingly deployed. Battery energy storage has the ability to improve the value and economies of renewable energy resources, like solar, as the most promising growth sector. With the technology improvements and most importantly the drop in solar and storage prices, we are seeing significant changes in the electric energy market.

Editor’s note: Jennah Denney is the marketing and public relations coordinator for Today’s Power, a provider of industrial and commercial technologies and services in sustainability. The opinions expressed are those of the author.