Sustainability appears to be on everyone’s minds these days. Mere days after taking office, President Joe Biden signed executive orders reaffirming his administration’s commitment to advancing solar, wind and clean energies. The same week, General Motors, an automotive industry icon, pledged to stop manufacturing gas-powered passenger vehicles by 2035. Meanwhile, other Fortune 500 companies, including J.B. Hunt Transport Services, are continuing to make renewable-focused investments.
Seemingly overnight, it looks like our country is on the cusp of a clean energy revolution. But, in reality, these efforts have been underway for years now — right here in our backyard.
In Northwest Arkansas, Walmart has set a goal to reduce its overall greenhouse gas emissions. The city of Fayetteville has forged ahead on its sustainability initiatives with a dedicated municipal department. And, just last year, Seal Solar flipped the switch on Arkansas’ largest county-owned and rooftop array as part of Washington County’s overall energy-efficiency measures to save $10.2 million in taxpayer dollars.
For far too long, skeptics have cast renewable energy as an industry disruptor. In particular, solar power has been inac
curately portrayed as an accessible option only to those on the East Coast or in technological hubs, such as Silicon Valley. Worse yet, it’s been pegged as a one-sided political issue. But that’s not true. Spurring economic growth is a bipartisan issue. And we have the opportunity to do just that by investing in solar power in Middle America.
Over the past decade, Arkansas’ advanced energy industry has experienced significant growth. But nothing can compare to the pace of 2020. Last year, our state’s solar firms proved they were pandemic-proof, completing a record number of residential, commercial, industrial and agricultural projects. At the same time, our sector reported unprecedented job growth. At Seal Solar alone, we welcomed 22 new employees, more than doubling our local workforce.
In 2021, solar has the potential to be an even stronger anchor for our state’s economy. Recent market activity shows solar, storage, electric vehicles (EV) and EV chargers will continue to dominate. To capitalize on these growth areas, we must focus on building public awareness and buy-in for these technologies. Specifically, we should reinforce how solar panels and batteries can help strengthen the electrical grid by providing reliable, cost-effective power during peak demand and in times of emergencies, such as severe storms or widespread outages.
We must then back up these investments with smart legislative policies. The Arkansas General Assembly laid a strong foundation with the Solar Access Act, which enables third-party financing for solar systems. Unfortunately, there are currently whispers of industry deregulation that, if enacted, would harm long-term growth prospects. Instead, state lawmakers should focus on leveling the playing field and encouraging continued private-sector competition.
As those in the industry know, the sun has only begun to rise on solar power in Arkansas. If we play our cards right, 2021 is poised to be another bright year for renewable energy and our state’s economic growth.
Heather Nelson is co-founder and president of Seal Solar, one of Arkansas’ leading solar businesses that provides turnkey solutions to homeowners, businesses, government entities and farmers across the state. The opinions expressed are those of the author.