Arkansas’ clean-energy future

by Gary Moody ([email protected]) 1,285 views 

Arkansas business and community leaders, elected officials, and policymakers have taken important steps in recent years in our national — and global — transition to a clean-energy economy. In Northwest Arkansas, cities and counties are powering operations with renewable energy sources, schools have implemented cost-saving energy efficiency measures along with solar arrays, and startups and research labs have developed innovative power technologies.

Every indicator suggests the clean energy transformation will only accelerate in the coming years. It is no longer just environmental advocates calling for change. America’s largest business community stalwarts like Ford, Coca-Cola, Google and John Deere, to name a few, also are calling on the federal government to implement policies to accelerate the transition to a zero-carbon power sector and expand access to clean energy for customers.

Here in our backyard, Walmart has set a goal to be powered 100% by renewable energy globally by 2035. And on his first day in office, President Joe Biden issued a set of executive orders directing federal agencies to procure carbon-free energy and electric vehicles, spur commercialization of clean energy technologies, and accelerate clean energy generation and transmission projects. The overall goal is a carbon-free power sector by 2035 and a net-zero economy by 2050.

As a clean energy advocate at work in Arkansas and across the country, Audubon welcomes this clean energy sea change. A 2019 Audubon report found that reducing emissions will slow the rise in global temperatures and save most North American bird species that would otherwise be vulnerable to climate threats. That includes beloved species in Arkansas like the Red-headed Woodpecker, the Cerulean Warbler and the Eastern Whip-poor-will.

As part of the Biden Administration’s comprehensive plan, the president has directed the Secretary of Agriculture to collect input from farmers, ranchers and other stakeholders on how to use federal programs to encourage the adoption of climate-smart agricultural practices that sequester additional carbon and create new sources of income and jobs for rural Americans.

Audubon has championed the bipartisan “Growing Climate Solutions Act,” which would provide technical assistance for the agriculture and forestry sectors to improve their ability to reduce air pollution and remove carbon from the atmosphere through natural processes, such as storing it in the soil. Arkansas’ agricultural producers are well-positioned to be leaders in this initiative.

Arkansas also has a prime opportunity to be a national leader in solar energy production due to strong state policy and geography, a sentiment recently echoed by Arkansas Public Service Commission Chairman Ted Thomas. In a meeting with Arkansas legislators earlier this month, Thomas noted the state’s advantages in conforming to expected regulations.

With the Solar Access Act of 2019 in place, Thomas told legislators, “we are prepared for what the EPA [Environmental Protection Agency] is going to do.”

The Solar Access Act, crafted and supported by an Audubon-led coalition, established a gold standard for Arkansas solar energy by opening up its market and providing more choices for consumers. As a direct result of the legislation, the Little Rock Audubon Center will soon be the first 100% renewable-powered nonprofit facility in the state, complete with a solar learning lab to educate visiting field trip students.

A renewed national focus on clean energy allows Arkansas to build on our earlier successes and aid the post-pandemic economy by stimulating jobs. Investing in clean energy will not only keep Arkansas the natural state but will allow us to lead in the transition to a clean-energy economy.

Gary Moody is director of state and local climate strategy for the National Audubon Society.  The opinions expressed are those of the author.