A champion of solar power in Arkansas rode quietly into retirement’s sunset at the end of last year when Mark Cayce headed west after 21 years as general manager of Ouachita Electric Cooperative Corp. in Camden.
As GM and CEO of the 7,000-member electric co-op, Cayce was an early solar adopter in tandem with defense contractor Aerojet Rocketdyne Inc. on a 12-megawatt solar array in 2016 that was the state’s largest sun power station at the time.
Later, OECC built its own community solar station at its Camden headquarters, as well as a series of projects for Southern Arkansas University Tech. Cayce also joined the board of the Arkansas cooperatives’ solar developer, Today’s Power Inc. of North Little Rock. He received the Arkansas Advanced Energy Association’s Pioneer Award in 2019, and lobbied for solar adoption by pointing out that it had helped him cut electricity rates for his members by 4.5%.
But two cancer diagnoses devastated plans for both Cayce and his chosen successor in Camden, Robby Stinnett.
“My retirement was effective Jan. 1, but I had actually retired months earlier after helping to train a replacement,” Cayce said by phone from Las Cruces, New Mexico, where he and his wife retired. “I’m being treated for lymphoma, and that absolutely affected my decision. I was just too weak to continue working.”
In what Cayce called a “terrible” twist, Stinnett soon learned he had colon cancer. A Camden native who was OECC’s system planning manager before being picked to lead the co-op, Stinnett was just 48 when he died Feb. 14 at Ouachita County Medical Center. Shawn Dorflinger, a former line design manager, is now the cooperative’s interim general manager.
Cayce said his lymphoma went into remission after chemotherapy, and he was having a checkup when Whispers caught up with him on Thursday. He wouldn’t exactly say he misses running the 38-employee nonprofit utility, but he would have liked to have stayed longer.
“Yeah, I hated to leave it, especially when we were right in the middle of things [with solar development],” Cayce said before turning to what his legacy might be after all those years at the co-op.
“Well, I hope it will be really introducing solar power to south Arkansas and being involved in solar spreading all across the state,” he said.