It was Arkansas Advanced Energy Day at the state Capitol, and Sen. Gary Stubblefield was speaking to the state’s top energy efficiency and renewable power companies, but he had to hold to his priorities.
“I promise you I will not take much of your time; we’ve got to be back over a the Senate to talk about marijuana and guns here in a minute. That stuff has to be taken care of.”
The laughter was a rare moment of departure on Tuesday as the Arkansas Advanced Energy Association was seriously promoting its mission of creating public policy and popular sentiment in favor of energy efficiency, renewable power and other green initiatives that have put 25,000 employees to work across the state.
Gov. Asa Hutchinson had proclaimed it Arkansas Advanced Energy Day at the Legislature.
“If we don’t tell our story, who will,” asked Katie Laning Niebaum, who succeeded Steve Patterson as the association’s executive director last year.
At booths encircling the second-floor rotunda, 13 exhibitors showed off their wares and services, including the event’s presenting partner, SEAL Energy Solutions of North Little Rock. Other companies represented were Energy Efficiency Design & Development, Powers of Arkansas, Johnson Controls, Inspiring Energy, Silicon Ranch, Clean Line Energy Partners, FutureFuel Chemical Co., Entegrity Energy and Centerpoint Energy.
Lawmakers and other gathered around the booths, accepting marketing tokens like pens, flashlights and in the case of Powers, even ballcaps.
“We appreciate our state lawmakers acting on policies that have an impact on our businesses,” Niebaum said, promoting initiatives like the Arkansas Energy Performance Contracting Program and the PACE (Property Assessed Clean Energy financing) program, “one of our leading legislative priorities this session.”
House Bill 2026, introduced last week, seeks to make Arkansas’ legal language on PACE conform with a national model. Arkansas’ PACE law authorizes energy improvement districts to fund loans for 100 percent of energy saving programs in commercial buildings or multifamily residential units. The loans are repaid over as many as 20 years on the property owners’ tax bills through a special assessment. Loan payments are designed to be less than the amount of energy savings achieved, so most business owners see an increase in cash flow.
“We have gotten feedback from the national capital markets, and they had concerns about the language,” said Frank Mayfield of Harrison Energy Partners and chairman of the PACE board for Fayetteville and Springdale. “The capital markets look at Arkansas and balk. One goal of the revised language is to overcome those problems. Another is to open up PACE financing beyond commercial projects, where it is used now, for use in residential projects.”
Rep. Warwick Sabin, D-Little Rock, noted that he was part of the successful effort to enact PACE in 2013, and that he’s behind efforts to expand the program now. “The truth is that the biggest attraction to advanced energy is what it does for our economy… This industry is going to be in the forefront, making sure that we conserve resources, that we build in a way that is responsible and that spurs additional economic development.”
He called the AAEA effective not only because of its persistent support of conservation and cleaner energy, but also because “your companies represent the economic development aspect of advanced energy, and you’re able to convey this message in a way that’s effective and understandable to members of the Legislature.”
Heather Nelson, co-founder of Seal Energy Solutions, described “exciting days for energy efficiency and renewables," and told of how she was dragged into the industry more than four years ago. “Ken Davenport is a master manipulator, and he got me together with his son, Josh, who manipulated me further. He said I absolutely needed to start a company from nothing, that nobody knows anything about, and that I should put my life savings together with his smaller life savings, because he’s 12 years younger than I am, to invest in trying to do this. I had a small stroke and said yes.”
What she found is that she could start a company from scratch, provide jobs, train an employee base and “grow a business model out of that. "We have 47 employees and we’re looking to hire three to five more over the next few months. We have five lines of business, from energy assessments and HVAC to solar design and installation for residential and commercial projects.
“The most exciting thing,” she continued, “is that this is an industry where you can still act and operate like a pioneer. And it’s an industry we all need to do a better job of speaking up for. It’s important to get the story out, because I have to go to banks and get money, and we have to educate them on what an energy efficiency firm is. It’s not common knowledge. We need the public to understand this mystery more.”