Residents face solar array connection delays; electric vehicle demand up

by Jeff Della Rosa ([email protected]) 692 views 

State energy leaders and legislators discussed some of the challenges residents have faced to connect solar arrays to the grid along with the broader adoption of electric vehicles amid rising demand.

The topics were included in an industry update the Arkansas Advanced Energy Association hosted virtually on Thursday (March 10).

Sen. Mark Johnson, R-Little Rock, who’s vice chair of the Joint Energy Committee, noted the committee is working to resolve the issues that residents have faced regarding delays in having their solar arrays connected to the grid. Those issues were discussed in the March 3 committee meeting.

In the meeting, Ted Thomas, chairman of the Arkansas Public Service Commission, highlighted issues that included who’s being allowed to inspect an array and the insurance coverage required before the array is connected to the grid. Many residents have yet to have their arrays connected to the grid by the electric company because of the issues.

“What we have right now is somewhere between 80 and 120 solar facilities built, constructed, sitting out in the sun — in an era of high natural gas prices — generating nothing,” Thomas said. “They stand as a warning to the person that made the risk to do that and to their neighbor: don’t go down this road. You will be punished. You will be feed. You will be litigated.”

Thomas added that some electric companies are requiring state inspectors to complete the inspection, but a state inspector doesn’t have to complete the inspection. However, a qualified inspector is required, and he said the inspection is completed at the customer’s expense.

Engineers representing the electric companies were seeking guidance on who would be qualified to complete such an inspection. They also explained that the rules to install solar arrays are noted on their websites.

A Pocahontas poultry farmer described the insurance coverage issue after he invested nearly $250,000 to install a 184.6-kilowatt array. The farmer noted the array was completed but not operating. He added that the electric company had changed the amount of coverage he said was needed from a $1 million to a $5 million policy, and the higher policy cost would lead him to reconsider the use of the array.

In the industry update Thursday, Lauren Waldrip, executive director of the Arkansas Advanced Energy Association, noted that the farmer’s issue was resolved on the day of the committee meeting. Still, she said the solar arrays of nearly 400 Arkansans are being impacted and aren’t able to connect to the grid as a result of the issues.

Energy leaders and legislators also discussed the recent announcement that Envirotech Vehicles will invest nearly $80 million to locate a commercial electric vehicle plant in Osceola. Johnson, who said he’s running for reelection, noted the last time a vehicle was manufactured in Arkansas was in the 1920s.

“This is an exciting thing to have Envirotech vehicles rolling off the line,” he said. “Canoo is putting their R&D facility in Northwest Arkansas and … their manufacturing will be in Oklahoma. This is just the tip of the iceberg. We’re going to have more entrepreneurs looking at this. It’s exciting.”

Johnson also highlighted the importance of adding more fast chargers for electric vehicles and that the only maintenance his Tesla needs includes refilling the windshield washer fluid and changing the tires.

Collin Riggin, partner at Evolve Auto, said electric vehicle sales are rising 50% annually, and rising demand is leading to a price spike amid high fuel prices and a semiconductor shortage. He added that he would like to see the new infrastructure law support a subsidy for farmers to allow them to install an electric charger on their farms.

“Once farmers realize how tough an electric truck will be and how much they’re saving by switching to electric in general from not filling up with diesel every day…there’s going to be huge demand in rural Arkansas,” Riggin said. “Right now, rural Arkansas has near zero charging stations.”

Also in the industry update, Sen. Mat Pitsch, R-Fort Smith, who’s running for state treasurer, discussed the recent fiscal session and that the state’s nearly three-month reserve in operating finances has led it to receive a AAA bond rating. He noted this will allow the state to issue bonds at a lower interest rate.