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Net metering reared up on the federal level last week, a reminder that electric utilities and solar users across Arkansas are still waiting on an important ruling on the issue from the state Public Service Commission.

That eagerly awaited Arkansas PSC order could come as soon as this week, observers predict.

Solar-power advocates and utility providers in Arkansas are looking to state regulators to establish firm rules and pricing mechanisms outlining how solar users should be compensated for the excess power they generate and return to the electric grid.

In Arkansas, users are compensated on a 1:1 basis, meaning they are credited 10 cents per kilowatt-hour for the unused power they return to the electric grid. That equals the 10 cents that Entergy charges customers for the electricity they use.

Entergy Arkansas and other electric utilities want to lower the credits to around 3 cents, noting they can often buy power cheaper on the open market than the amount being paid to solar users. Solar advocates argue that any change would hinder growth in the industry, which has blossomed with power arrays statewide supporting private businesses, school districts, cities and public agencies.

Entergy also has proposed an alternative grid charge for solar users to help compensate for the embedded infrastructure and future network costs to supply power to customers statewide.

The commission's ruling could be momentous: an order could strangle solar in its infant-growth stage or clear the way for a continued boom in jobs and investments. And, of course, there's always the middle ground of giving each of the major players a little bit of what they want.

Meanwhile, the Arkansas commission is seeking to intervene in a squabble started by the New England Ratepayers Association, a non-profit group founded in 2013 to represent large utility customers in the region. The group has asked the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to reverse previous policy, bypass state regulators and make net-metering transactions subject to federal jurisdiction.

Bottom line: they want federal governance over net metering and not state oversight. The case is still in the information-gathering stage with no clear outline for a decision.

Arkansas PSC Chairman Ted Thomas, who opposes the ratepayers' initiative, is leading a committee of state regulators who will issue a response in the case. They're likely to oppose any federal oversight of solar efforts on the state level.

[CORONAVIRUS: Click here for our complete coverage ┬╗ arkansasonline.com/coronavirus]

ECONOMIC SUPPORT

Six women-owned businesses grappling with economic distress caused by covid-19 are receiving financial support from the Women's Foundation of Arkansas.

The organization has awarded $30,000 in grants to assist small-businesses owners in six counties and representing multiple industries. The foundation also supplements financial support with educational and mentoring resources to help the businesses regain their footing.

"Through strategic partnerships, we will provide education and other resources to help women-owned small businesses weather and adapt to the new reality we live in due to COVID-19," said Ryder Buttry, Women's Foundation of Arkansas' director of strategic programs & initiatives.

This is the second round of funding support provided by the Women's Foundation, which is located in Little Rock. The initial cycle provided $50,000 in grants to 10 women-owned small businesses.

Grants announced last week were awarded to companies in West Memphis, Jonesboro, El Dorado, Forth Smith, Fayetteville and Conway.

The Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation, Arvest Bank and Simmons Bank have invested in the Women's Foundation to support the grant initiative.

The Women's Foundation is a statewide organization that promotes programs and activities to expand and strengthen the roles of women and girls in Arkansas.

STORM RELIEF AVAILABLE

Northeast Arkansas residents who suffered economic harm from storms that blew through several counties on March 28 are eligible for low-interest, long-term disaster loans through the U.S. Small Business Administration.

SBA loans are available to businesses, non-profits, homeowners and renters in Craighead, Greene, Jackson, Lawrence, Mississippi and Poinsett counties.

Disaster loans will be given to aid repairs that are not covered by traditional insurance. Damages must have been received during the severe weather on March 28.

"These loans can also be used for improvements to help minimize disaster damage in the future to make our Arkansas communities stronger and more resilient," said Edward Haddock, district director for SBA's Arkansas operations.

Loans of up to $2 million can be used to repair or replace disaster-damaged property owned by the business, including real estate, inventories, supplies, machinery and equipment, and all other physical losses.

Businesses also can apply for Economic Injury Disaster Loans, which help pay for financial damages that impaired operations but did not lead to physical damage of buildings or facilities.

The deadline to apply for property damage is July 20 and applications for economic injury loans must be submitted by Feb. 22, 2021.

More information and applications are available at https://disasterloanassistance.sba.gov or by calling (800)-659-2955.

CENTERPOINT INVESTMENT

CenterPoint Energy is investing $2.5 million to establish a training facility in Maumelle.

The gas utility has purchased the former Molex facility at 101 Bringler Drive and plans to convert the 52,126-square-foot warehouse and office building into a training center. The facility covers 10 acres and was formerly home to Molex Cable Assembly.

"Having a structurally-sound, up-to-date training and office facility will ensure that both newly hired and existing CenterPoint Energy employees from our Arkansas and Oklahoma service areas continue to receive the necessary training and skills to perform at the highest level to continue operating a safe, reliable natural gas system," company spokesman Ross Corson said.

The facility provides easy access to Maumelle Boulevard and Murphy Drive and is just a few miles from Interstate 40.

Centerpoint plans to remodel the facility to offer temperature-controlled space for technology operations employees to install and maintain computers used in fleet vehicles. The facility also will provide additional storage space for equipment and materials.

Colliers International of Arkansas represented Molex while Flake & Co. represented CenterPoint in the transaction.

SundayMonday Business on 05/29/2020

Print Headline: Arkansas awaits ruling as net metering increased on federal level

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