Improving Arkansans' access to low-cost financing for energy efficiency projects and removing barriers to the spread of homemade renewable energy were among the priorities announced Thursday by the Arkansas Advanced Energy Association.
The association, a trade group advocating advanced energy technologies, detailed its wish list in a policy statement coinciding with the session of the state General Assembly that opened Monday. The group's focus includes the Property Assessed Clean Energy finance program, known as PACE, and two items before the state Public Service Commission involving energy generated on-site by Arkansas homeowners and businesses.
The association's new executive director, Katie Laning Niebaum, said the the advanced energy sector will be a key Arkansas industry this century, and that the AAEA will stress policies to aid the development, manufacturing and use of these technologies.
A recent study by the group identified 770 advanced energy companies doing business in Arkansas, with reported annual sales of more than $1.7 billion and about 16,000 employees. Some 60 percent of those jobs are tied to energy savings equipment and services.
PACE and Arkansas Energy Performance Contracting — a program administered by the Arkansas Energy Office to help taxpayer-funded public entities reduce energy costs and improve their buildings — are the top legislative priorities, Niebaum said in a news release.
Outside the Legislature, the association is an intervening party in two PSC dockets involving net metering and distributed generation, which both involve renewable-energy generation projects at homes and businesses. Net metering is the process by which homeowners with solar panels or other renewable sources receive credit from utilities for the power they put onto the grid, and distributed generation refers more generally to power generated at the point of consumption.
Under the PACE program, which was recently used to provide about $650,000 for energy upgrades in a $6.5 million, 50-unit apartment complex breaking ground on Aldersgate Road in Little Rock, commercial property owners can obtain loans for 100 percent of the costs of energy projects and pay off the debt through special assessments on their property tax bills. The financing is accomplished through the creation of energy improvement districts, with loan payments calculated to be less than the amount of energy savings over time. This allows most business owners to increase their cash flow and avoid bearing the upfront costs of energy-saving upgrades.
But the program needs technical changes to reach its full potential, the AAEA says, pledging to advocate for those changes.
The Energy Performance Contracting program, known as AEPC, has been in operation for two years, enabling state agencies, colleges, cities and counties to cut energy costs while improving comfort and quality in public buildings. Public entities can also addressed deferred maintenance issues at no upfront cost under the program, which will also get great attention from the AAEA.
"Since our launch in 2012, we have built a strong record of policy achievements to help Arkansas' advanced energy industry drive economic development and job creation across the state," Niebaum said. "Working with policymakers, our members and other stakeholders, we look forward to building on this successful foundation to grow our advanced energy economy."
Part of that work includes the intervention in the PSC dockets, numbered 16-027-R and 16-028-U. In the first docket, the AAEA is supporting net metering customers as the state establishes guidelines for generating capacity limits and a revised rate structure for home-generated power. Consideration of the rate structure has been assigned to a Net Metering Working Group consisting of all interested parties, including the AAEA, which is arguing strongly that existing net-metering customers be grandfathered in permanently under current rates.
The second docket represents a historic attempt by the PSC to consider the full range of distributed generation issues more broadly, the AAEA said in a news release, adding that the group is using the opportunity to suggest several policy changes.
Another priority for the group is to continue its participation in Parties Working Collaboratively (PWC) to assist the state’s seven public utilities in energy efficiency programs. The goal is to aid the utilities in developing a plan for extending these power-saving programs through 2019.