Bob East, whose success in construction, real estate and technology has earned accolades, is leveraging his experience to advance solar power adoption after taking a 25% stake in Delta Solar of Little Rock last year.
Now he's pioneering a new way of siting remote solar facilities for commercial clients by swapping a $60,000 solar array for 12 acres of city-owned land in England (Lonoke County).
"The solar system is an equal value, or actually a better value, than the 12 acres they traded for us to use for our solar projects," East told Arkansas Business by phone this week.
The city gets a solar facility that's projected to save it $5,000 a year in energy costs, Delta gets low-cost land to build on, and the city owns the system, avoiding a long-term power-purchase commitment, East said. He added that beyond the traded 12 acres and the 15 or so acres where ground has been broken on the city's 30-kilowatt array, the city has about 100 acres for consideration of similar swaps in the future.
"It's a win win," East said. "Mayor Butch House has been trying to find projects like this to help England establish itself as a community close to Little Rock with viable living conditions that should attract a lot of people down there. He also liked the concept of green energy and expanding on that."
East, founder of Little Rock general contractor East-Harding Inc., believes solar energy is poised just as fiber optics and security systems were set to boom when he bought Advanced Cabling Systems in 1998. At that time, the Little Rock company had three employees and about $400,000 a year in revenue. He "understood that fiber optics were going to be the next big thing, and that contractors wanted a one-stop shop for cabling, security and other installations. By the time East sold the company for millions to ADT in January 2019, it was one of the largest installers of low-voltage cabling, fire alarms, CCTV and entry access systems in the country.
That resume puts him into a good position to make pitches to commercial solar clients as Delta Solar expands a job list that has been heavy with agriculture projects.
"I think I have some credibility, talking to people about what will work and what it will cost," East said. "You tell them a lot of numbers, but in the end, they're kind of trusting your experience.
"I've done construction and development for 40-something years, and then there was Advanced Cabling, which had kind of the same acceptance. I'm from Little Rock and went to school in Fayetteville, I've got experience in finance and on the board of Bank of the Ozarks, and I've got a lot of contacts, so that definitely helps me."
Founded in 2017 by solar panel expert Douglas Hutchings of Fayetteville and agricultural solar pioneer and farmer AJ Hood, Delta Solar (formerly Delta SunEnergy), recently added real estate executive and former Arkansas Razorback quarterback Tyler Wilson as senior vice president of sales. "He's a partner in our company," East said.
"When I first got involved Delta was mainly doing ag projects; now we're expanding on that," he said. "Agricultural arrays have a really short payback time, and really works well for farmers. AJ has put it to use on the farms he manages and can show you the numbers. But the commercial space is really underserved, and businesses are just starting to realize what a great thing solar can be for them as far as cutting their expenses and paying for their array through reduced electrical costs."
The company bought a building on Cantrell Road in Little Rock near the temporary Arkansas Arts Center location, and is doing some hiring.
"Solar is going to continue to see greater acceptance, and we're talking to several developers about incorporating solar into the design of their buildings," East said. "Can it fit on the roof or in a remote space, or can you use glass panels on the exterior? There are going to be so many options when it's designed in with the buildings."
Technology, again, will be the driving force, he said.
"That's what drove advanced cabling to grow like we did, and solar technology and clean energy are absolutely necessary to the future, and many advancements are coming. Innovations and jobs are coming. I just think it's really growing and changing and useful technology. It's easy to install, inexpensive, and you don't need to fix it.
"It'll be the wave of the future."