The future is bright for the solar industry in Arkansas. The state’s advanced energy economy contributes $2.8 billion in economic output, according to the UALR Arkansas Economic Development Institute. Advanced energy companies, including Arkansas Advanced Energy Association (AAEA) members, employ a workforce of 25,000 Arkansans and counting.
Arkansas’ advanced energy industry will play a key role in the state’s economy as energy continues to transition to cleaner sources. The AAEA is dedicated to growing Arkansas’s economy through expanded utilization of advanced energy technologies and innovations that make our energy supply more secure, clean and affordable. AAEA engages in policy advocacy at the federal, state and regulatory levels. As the business voice for advanced energy in Arkansas, we represent our members by advocating for beneficial policies and providing education on why these issues are important to Arkansans.
Solar, in particular, has been the standout among the most rapidly developing sectors in the industry with projects across the state. In a year with struggles for almost every industry, solar has not only survived, it has thrived.
Alternative work and school schedules have only reinforced the need for reliable and affordable access to electricity. Whether in larger cities or rural towns, solar power offers Arkansans alternative ways to provide a fundamental need for their families while also expanding the generating capacity for a reliable, clean energy source and making that a key part of the natural state’s generation portfolio both now and in the future.
This has been no accident. During the 92nd General Assembly, the solar industry received a strong endorsement from the legislature with the Solar Access Act, now Act 464, which passed by 28-2 in the Senate and 83-5 in the House. Act 464 expanded access to those seeking to deploy solar by enabling third-party financing. This financing tool is particularly important for non-tax entities, such as schools, churches, cities and counties, colleges and universities, state agencies, and nonprofit 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 a solar array, unlocking capital to invest in local communities. For example, in the two years since installing solar panels on school property, the Batesville School District has not only saved nearly $1 million in utilities but has also been able to provide teacher raises anywhere between $2,000 and $9,000.
In addition, new opportunities for the growing industry 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 at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock. Solar jobs encompass a variety of fields, are available statewide, pay well and offer opportunities for career advancement. As solar technology advances at a rapid clip, the sky is truly the limit for economic opportunity.
To ensure this continued success, the state must stay on the current path of pursuing competitive, market-driven policies that put ratepayers first and promote policies that are both pro-environment and pro-economic growth.
To support this aim, the AAEA recently joined the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA), a national trade association leading the transformation to a clean energy economy. Partnering with an association promoting these policy objectives on the national level will allow us to draw on expertise from across the country to keep Arkansas at the forefront of this rapidly developing field.
AAEA will continue to promote policies that put Arkansas and Arkansans first. Our beautiful state can both protect its natural resources and beauty while promoting a dynamic, thriving economy. Our people deserve well-paying, in state job opportunities that support their families and communities. Our home-grown businesses deserve a fair, open and competitive market to develop new technologies and provide excellent services. The solar industry is leading the way in clean energy nationwide and AAEA hopes to help Arkansas continue to lead the way.
Editor’s note: Stephanie Osborne is the executive director of the Arkansas Advanced Energy Association. The opinions expressed are those of the author.