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Should’ve been AR for solar May 26, 2023 at 3:05 a.m.

Great news!!!! … for Oklahoma. After we reported several weeks ago about electric vehicle manufacturer Canoo making a sizable investment in our neighbor to the west, we now find out that Enel North America plans to invest more than $1 billion to build a manufacturing facility at a site in Oklahoma.

What kind of manufacturing, you ask? Solar.

The project will include construction of a two million-square-foot photovoltaic cell (whatever that is) and solar panel manufacturing facility in Inola.

The 10-figure investment was secured through a $180 million incentive package put together by the Oklahoma Legislature that requires certain benchmarks to be hit by the company. Oklahoma City’s paper, The City Sentinel, reports that the $180 million comes in tax rebates and requires the company spend $1.8 billion in qualifying capital expenditures and create 1,400 permanent new jobs.

It’s not rocket surgery to see the 10-to-1 ratio here, which seems like a pretty good return for the state, considering the tax revenue that will also be realized from 1,400 new jobs.

You may wonder where Inola is located in Oklahoma because, well, we did, too.

It’s 27 miles east of Tulsa. That’s almost like the Hogs losing to the Sooners by a point in double overtime. We missed it by that much.

In a statement by Giovanni Bertolino, head of Enel North America’s affiliate 3Sun USA, “Our selection of Oklahoma is a testament to the strength of the Tulsa Port of Inola site …” That’s great for them, but why not Arkansas?

We have a good river port. Some might call it a great port. The port in Little Rock didn’t shut down during the flood of 2019. Inola’s didn’t either, but it might as well have, as no barges could get that far up the McClellan-Kerr Arkansas River Navigational System.

The wind in Arkansas can’t compete with a place where it comes sweeping down from the plains, but our river port and workforce can. Compete, that is. The question is: Can our leaders in the Legislature and the rest of state government compete with Oklahoma’s pols and commit the same resources to attract major investment?

We hope so. As of last month, Arkansas’ unemployment rate was 2.8 percent, which is below the already-low 3.4 percent national average. But nobody in their right mind would scoff at 1,000 additional manufacturing jobs. And, we know of more than a few good Arkansas construction companies who would be more than up to the task of putting 1,800 people to work building a two million-square-foot facility in the Port of Little Rock.

We’ve done a great job of deploying solar all across Arkansas; the momentum continues, but transportation costs are an important piece of the equation. If we manufactured renewable energy products in Arkansas, it would cost less to deploy them here.

That would create more energy supply and more energy supply relative to demand is always good for the consumer.

It’s time for Arkansas to step beyond just deploying solar and move into manufacturing. There would be no better place to do that than the Port of Little Rock.


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