The Arkansas Advanced Energy Association got a couple of welcome surprises Wednesday at its annual emPOWER gathering in Little Rock.
Along with networking time, industry discussions and awards presentations at the Clinton Presidential Center, the group of energy efficiency, renewable energy and performance contracting professionals received assurances from Gov. Asa Hutchinson that the state is prepared to extend net metering “grandfathering” rules that lock down the price solar array owners receive for the power they create over the lives of their systems.
And Cody Waits, director of the Arkansas Office of Skills Development, announced a $2 million grant to the AAEA for a workforce development training program. “It’s huge,” said Heather Nelson, president of Seal Solar of North Little Rock and the trade group’s board chair.
Hutchinson, who received the Ron Bell Award for individual contributions to advanced energy in Arkansas, assured the group that the state is poised to extend rules governing net metering rates for solar energy that customers’ systems return to the grid.
“Let me mention one other thing that might be of interest to you, and I know the [Arkansas Public Service Commission] has been working on net net metering rules. And because we have a deadline that is coming Dec. 31 of this year for our net metering rules, let me tell you very clearly that that deadline … needs to be extended,” said the governor, who is in the last few months of his eight-year administration.
“There needs to be a fixed rate for the interconnectivity agreement for 20 years for consistency in locking in the rates for investments in solar,” Hutchinson continued. “I think really the only debate is how long the extension [of grandfathering in a 20 year fixed credit rate] should be.”
The governor said he envisioned an extension of at least two years.
In that time, he said, “our policymakers can continue to examine it and fine-tune the rules… But that deadline needs to be expanded.”
As the PSC has worked on the issue, the governor has offered feedback, he said. He also praised another of Wednesday’s speakers, former PSC Chairman Ted Thomas, who resigned after eight years on the utility regulatory panel at the first of the month, as well as the lawyer he chose to succeed Thomas, Katie Anderson.
“Thank you, Ted, for your service and your support in the solar industry as a leader,” Hutchinson said. “I think our new chair will catch up very quickly and do a great job as she helps resolve some of these thorny issues that are still pending.”
The governor has declared this October as Energy Awareness month in Arkansas, calling it his opportunity to “remind Arkansans of the importance of all of the alternative energy sources and how we're the Natural State, with a need to continue promoting the development of our natural resources in ways that minimize waste and employ alternative energy sources.”
The grandfathering issue in net metering was the association’s top priority heading into its 10th annual meeting, Executive Director Lauren Waldrip said.
The association’s Advanced Energy Rising Star Award went to Jade Anuszek, co-founder and president of Arkansas Solar Power Inc., a residential and commercial solar contractor. A former real estate agent, Anuszek is “passionate about about bridging the gap of solar affordability, and promoting grid flexibility.”
The Advanced Energy Innovation Award went to Evolve Auto of North Little Rock, which specializes in selling used but pristine electric cars.