Arkansas has the capacity to be a leader in solar energy production but there are hurdles on the horizon, Arkansas Public Service Commission Chairman Ted Thomas told legislators on the Joint Energy Committee Wednesday (Feb. 3). During the previous session in 2019, the body passed the Solar Access Act, which has helped to expand solar energy production in the state.
The state has some of the lowest electricity rates in the country, and it has several key advantages specifically in the solar sector, Thomas said. Arkansas has vast swaths of flat, cheap land and has a high number of sunny days each year. Those factors have led companies such as General Motors to invest in solar energy in the state.
Solar energy production could directly impact some of the most economically challenged parts of Arkansas especially in southern and eastern parts of the state. Thomas said he has heard rumors that President Joe Biden and his administration will favor shovel-ready, renewable energy projects, and the state is in prime position for projects of that type.
“We have something good going. … If we open this up to markets, we win with innovation,” he said.
There has been opposition to the expansion of solar in the state, however, by traditional energy suppliers who think the sector is getting an unfair advantage, and a slew of litigation has been filed, Thomas said. Innovations often need help on the front end, he noted, and he believes at some point this session there may be a move to eliminate the Solar Access Act or reduce what it can do.
During the next few years, the Environmental Protection Agency is predicted to drastically reduce emission rates, and the state’s solar law could allow for energy producers to conform on the front end.
APSC has the ability to mitigate grid rates, the rates paid by solar producers when energy is transferred from a solar farm to another entity on the existing grid system. The commission is also focused on cost shift mitigation, he added.
“Expect a fight to stop it. … This is going to be a contentious issue,” he said. Thomas later added that with the Solar Access Act in place “we are prepared for what the EPA is going to do.”