One great thing about Arkansas and Arkansans? We pretty much do what we want.
A great example can be found in our state's growing embrace of clean energy. Despite the best anti-environmental efforts of President Trump, our small state is rapidly becoming a shining example of how this country can move away from dirty fossil fuels and toward clean wind and solar energy.
For environmentalists across country, President Trump has become the face of environmental deregulation and lackluster enforcement. Trump has nominated former coal lobbyist Andrew Wheeler to lead the Environmental Protection Agency. This comes alongside the lowest rate of environmental criminal prosecution since the Reagan administration, which is primarily due to a cut of environmental enforcement staff and budget.
Under the Trump administration, the Department of the Interior has eased restrictions on gas and oil drilling on millions of acres that provide habitats to endangered species, and the federally appointed group of scientists tasked with reviewing the nation's air pollution standards has been disbanded. As the global science community predicts increasingly devastating man-made climate change, the Trump administration is intent on ignoring science and taking our country backwards.
Yet despite this troublesome news coming out of D.C., Arkansas is one of many states leading a clean-energy revolution powered largely by the economic incentives of cheaper and more efficient fuel alternatives. This transition from dirty coal power plants to clean renewable resources, namely solar and wind power, is accelerating rapidly.
In late 2018, the Sierra Club and others negotiated the retirement of the two largest polluters in the state--Entergy's White Bluff and Independence coal-burning power plants--along with the Lake Catherine natural gas plant. This settlement includes a pledge by Entergy to seek approval for hundreds of megawatts of clean solar energy. Entergy--the state's largest coal-burning utility--has already invested in solar-energy facilities in Camden, Stuttgart, and Lake Village.
This is outstanding news for Arkansas. Retiring dirty coal plants and building large solar plants will improve our air quality, create jobs, and produce savings on our utility bills. Building solar is much cheaper than installing expensive equipment that would allow the dirty coal plants to remain open longer. The estimated $2 billion that would have been spent on Entergy's plants can now be spent on clean energy in Arkansas.
Not only is solar and wind energy much better for the environment due to nonexistent greenhouse gas emissions, but it creates opportunities for local job growth. The Entergy solar farm in Stuttgart, for instance, is estimated to deliver an additional $8 million in revenue to Arkansas County alone during its operational lifespan in the form of new jobs and customer savings.
Nationally speaking, 50,000 people now work in the coal industry. This pales in comparison to the nearly 350,000 Americans who support themselves from the solar industry. As job opportunities continue to grow, the cost of renewable energy continues to drop. It has only taken a decade for the cost of wind and solar energy to drop by more than 65 percent each! Even after government subsidization of renewable technology is gradually discontinued, fossil fuels will still have stiff competition from these growing industries.
This economic reality is a massive driving force behind the energy revolution in Arkansas. Not only has Entergy promised to increase its solar production, but other Arkansas companies have begun to import or create renewable energy alternatives. Southwestern Electric Power Company is seeking to add 1,200 megawatts of wind energy to its portfolio. Additionally, the Arkansas Electric Cooperatives have added a significant amount of imported wind energy for its in-state customers.
But it's not just Arkansas utilities that are getting in the clean-energy game. Arkansas cities are also transitioning to renewable energy. Clarksville and Fayetteville have both started to deliberately incorporate solar energy into their city infrastructures, building solar arrays to power their wastewater treatment plants. The city of Fayetteville has gone even further and, after intensive research and planning, has developed an energy action plan which will power the entire city with clean energy in the coming years. The list of Arkansas cities embracing clean solar is growing constantly.
Despite the disregard for scientific consensus and sustainable policies in D.C., Arkansas is moving toward clean energy. By creating new jobs and reaping the economic benefits of lower utility costs, Arkansas is striving toward an environmentally conscious and economically sustainable future.
We're Arkansans. We do what we want. And what we want is a state powered by clean energy, with all the powerful environmental and economic benefits that brings. We know that a clean-energy future is truly how we can make America--and Arkansas--great again.
Charles McCracken is a senior at Hendrix College and an intern at the Arkansas Sierra Club.
Editorial on 02/08/2019
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