Arkansas Public Service Commission Chairman Ted Thomas was a presenter and an award winner Thursday as the Arkansas Advanced Energy Association held its first live gathering in two years at Heifer International in Little Rock.
The trade association for renewable power, efficiency and energy contracting firms and stakeholders gave Thomas the Ron Bell Advanced Energy Leadership Award in recognition of outstanding contributions to the industry.
The Rising Star award at the annual policy meeting and conference, dubbed EmPOWER Arkansas, went to Stacey Svendsen, vice president of marketing and customer relations for Delta Solar of Little Rock. Entegrity of Little Rock took the Business Innovation award for its recently completed net-zero apartment project in Fayetteville, the Network building; and the association’s newest honor, the Pioneer Award, went to University of Arkansas entrepreneurship professor Carol A. Reeves.
“Since I was a kid all I wanted to do was public policy,” said Thomas, who was named PSC chairman by Gov. Asa Hutchinson in 2015. The commission regulates utilities in the state, and since his arrival Thomas has established himself as a “little bit of a celebrity” for his knowledge and policy acumen on renewable power, energy efficiency and advanced technologies, AAEA board chair Heather Nelson said.
“I thank the governor for putting me in this role, because I'm getting to do this,” said Thomas, a lawyer by training. “This award is symbolic to me of the fact that I'm able to do public policy work and help our state move forward.” Later, he joined Arkansas Energy & Environment Secretary Becky Keough on a program on regulatory trends.
The award taken by Thomas is named for Ron Bell, the first chairman of the Arkansas Advanced Energy Foundation, the association’s educational affiliate.
Matt Bell, co-owner of Entegrity and no relation to Ron, said he was honored to win the innovation award for Network, the 28-unit mixed-use apartment building completed this year. The project culminated two years of work, including advanced energy efficiency, integrated design and construction, and a 115-kilowatt solar array to provide 100% of the project’s power needs. Another goal was to offer net-zero living at market-rate rents in the heart of Fayetteville – the project is at South School Avenue and West South Street, opposite the Fayetteville Public Library – along with amenities like electric vehicle charging stations.
“We had three goals and we set out to do this building,” said Matt Bell, who is also a co-owner of the Connect project. “To make it sustainable, to make it powered by renewable energy 100%, and doing that at market rate rents. And we were successful in doing that. Five or six years ago, this would have been the bleeding edge of development. Now it’s cutting edge, and it’s possible.”
Lisa Perry of Walmart Inc. led a panel discussion on public-private partnerships, and the live-streamed event included a keynote talk by Erin Duncan, vice president of congressional affairs for the Solar Energy Industries Association. Lauren Waldrip, the AAEA’s executive director for just weeks before the gathering, offered an update on the association’s work and led a panel discussion about advanced energy in agriculture involving farmers Mark Isbell and Stephen Boyd, along with Laura Clark of the University of Arkansas Hope-Texarkana.
In the day’s last panel discussion, Jennah Denney of Today’s Power Inc. gathered thoughts on the electric vehicle movement from Collin Riggin, partner in Evolve Auto of North Little Rock; Patti Springs of the Arkansas Department of Energy and Environment; and Charles Frazier, CEO of Rock Region Metro.