Net Metering Had Biggest Year as Solar Surged in 2018


Net Metering Had Biggest Year as Solar Surged in 2018
Bill Halter | CEO of Scenic Hill Solar of Little Rock (Kerry Prichard)

Arkansas has its biggest year of solar power installation ever in 2018, and the reason’s no mystery to Bill Halter.

“Solar is now the most economical form of new electricity generation for industrial, commercial and governmental entities in Arkansas,” said the former lieutenant governor, now CEO of Scenic Hill Solar of Little Rock.

Halter was reacting to data from the Arkansas Advanced Energy Association, which gleaned from state regulatory filings that renewable energy projects leading to net-metering arrangements with power companies surged nearly 53% last year.

More than 1,500 homes and businesses in Arkansas now have net-metering systems, which credit customers with their own renewable generation systems for the electricity they produce and contribute to the power grid. Arkansas, which had 988 net-metering systems statewide at the end of 2017, added 520 during 2018, a 52.6% rise. More than 350 systems had been added in 2017, a 56% increase.

The news followed a key legislative victory for solar power in the Arkansas General Assembly, which recently passed legislation to allow third-party financing of photovoltaic arrays and raised commercial project size limits up to a 1-megawatt cap.

Just this month, the Bureau of Labor Statistics projected solar photovoltaic installer as the fastest-growing job in the U.S., with a projected growth rate of 105% from 2016-26. Median yearly pay for those jobs in 2017 was $39,490.

“These numbers are further evidence of the growing demand for advanced energy resources, which create job opportunities,” Katie Niebaum, executive director of the AAEA, said in a statement. “The solar sector is an increasingly important economic driver in our state with tremendous opportunity ahead.”

And net-metering activity was up throughout the state. Members of the Arkansas Electric Cooperative Corp. had 454 net-metering facilities at the end of last year, followed by 454 at Entergy Arkansas, the state’s largest electric utility with more than 700,000 customers.

“Some of our clients are pursuing 100% renewable energy,” Halter said. “New laws provide additional flexibility and financial options, and, in some cases, reduced lead-time for government approvals.” He said his team is also hiring.

Going hand-in-hand with the net-metering statistics, Arkansas was one of the fastest-growing states in solar job creation. According to a recent report by FMT Research and the Solar Energy Industries Association, Arkansas ranked 18th among the 50 states last year, adding 118 megawatts of solar generation.

“The level of interest and demand … has continued to increase as residences continue to become more education on solar and its immediate benefits for those who adopt it,” said Caleb Gorden, president of Shine Solar in Bentonville. Gorden, offering market insights in an AAEA news release, said solar costs make sense for homeowners, and that financing systems with no money out of pocket is a popular pathway. That lets them shift money they had been devoting to utility bills to making solar system payments. But those solar payments are fixed, he emphasized, and tax credits make projects even more affordable.

Douglas Hutchings, CEO of Picasolar in Fayetteville, predicts that his company will double the number of projects it is supporting over the next 12 months. Heather Nelson, COO of Seal Energy Solutions in North Little Rock, said her company could easily see its largest year-over-year growth ever. “Now with the passage of Senate Bill 145, solar pricing is 60% less than it was four years ago,” she said, adding that new financing options mean that customers are seeing cash flow-positive outcomes from the first month of operation.

She said Seal had created a new executive position, vice president of operations, hiring Stefan Booy, who’ll focus on growth in Seal’s seventh year in business.