JOSH DAVENPORT and HEATHER NELSON: Harness Arkansas’ solar potential

A few years ago, some would have said, "It is too expensive for everyday consumers." Others would have remarked, "It is not a feasible solution for my small business." But this is no longer the case.

Slowly but surely, Arkansas' advanced energy sector is breaking down common misconceptions about solar power. Today we are capitalizing on our industry's untapped potential to help create new jobs, generate significant energy savings and boost economic growth in every corner of the state.

According to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, Arkansas currently has the 11th-highest solar potential in the U.S. due to the amount of sunlight it receives. As an industry, we have wasted no time in using this natural resource to our advantage.

In 2018, The Solar Foundation ranked Arkansas among the leading states for solar job growth, with 85 new jobs added for a 30 percent year-over-year increase. GMT Research and Solar Industries Association called 2018 the state's biggest installation year ever thanks to 118 new megawatts of solar generation. And the Arkansas Advanced Energy Association reported a total of 1,508 net-metering systems, up from 988 systems in 2017.

Despite our industry's continual progress, we recognized regulatory barriers still remained. Fortunately, Gov. Asa Hutchinson and the Arkansas General Assembly have helped us address those challenges.

Earlier this spring, members from both sides of the aisle joined together to pass the Solar Access Act. The bipartisan legislation, now law, enables third-party leasing and purchasing of solar arrays by nontaxable entities such as city and county governments and nonprofits. The law more than triples the maximum solar size limits for Arkansas businesses to ensure future scalability of projects. Additionally, it added a grandfathering provision to provide market certainty and protect solar adopters from future rate structure changes.

Together, the Business Innovations Legal Clinic of the William H. Bowen School of Law predicts these regulatory updates could double, or even triple, the number of solar jobs in Arkansas and help lower the upfront costs by 25 to 40 percent for the state's consumers.

Since the passage of the Solar Access Act in March, there have been dozens of new projects announced, from Pine Bluff to Fayetteville, that will help power municipal operations and save significant taxpayer dollars.

Take Washington County as an example. In May, county officials approved a plan to install a large bank of solar panels that will produce 2 megawatts of electric power. Once completed, it will be the largest non-utility-owned solar array and largest county-owned solar array in the state, capable of achieving $10.2 million in savings over 20 years.

These newly announced projects are just the beginning. We strongly believe there is room for growth in the advanced energy industry, particularly with the federal solar Investment Tax Credit set at 30 percent through the end of 2019.

Right now, the solar penetration rate in Arkansas stands at less than half of 1 percent. As new technologies emerge, including readily accessible and long-lasting solar batteries, we should remain committed to encouraging all Arkansans--whether homeowners, farmers, business owners or local governments--to consider the benefits of solar power.

With limitless cost savings, jobs and future economic development on the line, we should ride this new wave of energy production to help Arkansas become a leader in the field.


Josh Davenport and Heather Nelson are the co-founders of Seal Solar, a solar-energy solutions firm in North Little Rock that serves homeowners, businesses, government entities and farmers. For more information, visit sealsolar.com.

Editorial on 07/19/2019