Today's Paper News Sports Features Business Opinion LEARNS Guide Newsletters Obits Games Archive Notices Core Values

Little Rock School Board to consider proposal to add solar power to the district’s energy sources

by Cynthia Howell | September 12, 2023 at 7:26 a.m.
File Photo

The Little Rock School Board is expected to take action as soon as its Sept. 21 meeting on a proposal to add solar energy to the mix of the district's utility resources.

The plan -- if approved -- calls for the 21,000-student district to enter into a solar services agreement with Entegrity Energy Partners.

Entegrity would own, operate and maintain an array of solar panels on approximately 35 acres in Phillips County from which the capital city school system would purchase some of its power at a lower price than Entergy Arkansas would charge.

The arrangement would offset about 25% of "the district's total baseline energy consumption," according to the proposal. The district currently acquires all of its electricity from Entergy Arkansas.

The proposed arrangement would generate a cost savings -- in other words lessen the district's electrical utility bills -- by $4.5 million to $7 million over 25 years, Parker Higgs, the Arkansas director of Entegrity Partners, recently told School Board members.

The district would have a guaranteed maximum upfront cost of about $41,500, to generate the long-term savings, Higgs said. That does not include the annual solar services agreement payment.

Kelsey Bailey, the district's chief deputy for business and finance, told the board that the recommended solar plan will not require the district to manage the array.

"We don't have the expertise and we definitely don't have the staff to oversee that," Bailey said. "Right now, at this point, the board has to make a decision on whether to move forward with this option presented or not."

School Board members had different responses to the proposal that has been in the development stage for more than a year.

"To me this is all good news," board member Greg Adams said at a work session on what he called "a quite amazing" proposal to invest about $41,000 and get back about $5 million in savings.

"That would allow us more flexibility to do more things for students," Adams said.

Students would also benefit by reducing carbon in the environment, he said.

"I see it as a win-win for us in the short run and and the long-run, sustainability-wise, budget-wise and students'- future wise," he said.

Board member Vicki Hatter had multiple questions about the proposal, questioning whether Entergy would compensate for the loss of revenue from the Little Rock School District's use of the solar plan by raising the rates of its residential customers.

"Do you guarantee cost-shifting won't happen?" Hatter asked, adding that there could be a negative impact on the low-income families in the school district.

"I want my eyes wide open when we are making such a significant move," Hatter said.

Ali Noland, a board member who has pushed for consideration of a solar energy plan, responded that courts have found no evidence of cost-shifting in other cases.

"If we can save $5 million to serve our students and Entergy chooses to increase its rates to protect its profit ... that is a decision that is on Entergy," Noland said. "We are making a decision for our students when we decide to use our resources more efficiently."

The Entegrity Energy Partners proposal states that the district's use of renewable solar power in place of traditional energy sources would reduce the district's carbon footprint at an amount equivalent to 1,591 homes' electricity use for one year, or the removal of 1,819 cars from the road.

The Little Rock School Board agreed in March to a no-cost contract with Entegrity Energy Partners of Little Rock for an energy audit and project proposal with an eye toward a possible second contract to have Entegrity design and implement energy- and water-conservation measures.

The audit was to evaluate solar options to maximize the Little Rock School District's energy and cost savings, including the use of off- and on-site solar arrays.

The School Board in September 2022 had directed Superintendent Jermall Wright and his staff to solicit proposals from energy service companies to evaluate the district's energy consumption and propose how to meet at least some of those energy demands with solar power.

The district received five responses to the request for proposals. A district committee interviewed three of the responders, according to documents presented to the School Board in support of the Entegrity recommendation.

The School Board authorized the request for proposals last year at the urging of Central High School's Young Leftist Club and others who had appealed to the board to consider alternative, sustainable energy sources.

Print Headline: School board to mull solar energy proposal


Sponsor Content