Joe Biden may have an approval rating somewhere around 41%, but his policies are beyond popular with renewable energy developers like Bill Halter of Little Rock.
Halter, the former Arkansas lieutenant governor and CEO of Scenic Hill Solar, cited Biden’s Inflation Reduction Act last week in announcing a major initiative to make Arkansas a center of solar power produced with American-made equipment and know-how. The broader idea behind the plan, dubbed “American Made, Arkansas Built,” is a bipartisan priority of greater energy independence in a volatile era of energy prices.
The initiative includes four of the leading solar energy companies based in the United States, and will use Scenic Hill’s solar generation projects as test sites for a system of U.S. arrays that are all-American in sourcing, or closer to it. The companies involved — including Zekelman Industries, which has a new operation in Blytheville — are “the best players in the solar industry across the United States,” Halter said.
With natural gas customers expecting their heating bills to rise by a third or more this winter, and electricity running up to 10% higher across the country, the domestic solar initiative is timely. After all, burning natural gas creates a considerable amount of American electricity.
“We are pushing for an American-led renewable energy system, starting in Arkansas,” Halter said, noting the collaboration’s broader significance. “The solar industry began in the United States but then shifted overseas. So we are partnering with leading companies to bring the industry back home to America.” The focus will be on innovation and “collaboration among the premier American manufacturers of solar equipment and batteries,” he said.
The collaborators include the “leading American module manufacturer, a leading manufacturer of single-axis tracking systems [Nextracker Inc.], the leading American manufacturer of inverters [Yaskawa Solectria Solar], the largest independent supplier of steel pipe [Zekelman], and a leading American developer of lithium ion cells and battery storage [KORE Power],” said Halter, who was lieutenant governor during the administration of the last Democrat to lead the state, Gov. Mike Beebe.
The intention is to advance American companies in the solar industry, but also position Arkansas as a leader in what Halter called the fastest-growing industry in the world.
“I think you can see from the quotes from the CEOs of these companies [in a Nov. 10 news release] how compelling they believe that this is,” Halter said in a telephone interview.
“We will use Scenic Hill Solar-owned power plants as test facilities and as demonstration facilities, and as opportunities to collaborate to improve the efficiency and the value of solar power plants.”
Halter told Arkansas Business he’s been frustrated for years with the state’s ranking 48th or 49th “in every statistic that matters.”
“Everybody here understands the phrase ‘thank God for Mississippi,’” the state that often ranks dead last in those statistics. “This is our opportunity to propel Arkansas into a leadership position in the fastest-growing industry in the world,” he said.
The American-made products and technologies should take advantage of “natural advantages in the Natural State,” Halter said, noting that Arkansas has plenty of flat, clear land, the 10th-largest ratio of sunshine in the 50 states, and power transmission advantages. “We can’t let this opportunity pass us by.”
He also noted that Little Rock is home to two headquarters of regional transmission organizations, Southwest Power Pool and Midcontinent Independent System Operator.
The Inflation Reduction Act, which Biden signed into law in August, includes the largest federal investment ever in clean energy, including federal money and tax credits, and opens a pathway for tax-exempt entities to claim its incentives. It extends a 30% investment tax credit for solar and other clean generation facilities through 2024
It also birthed two new tax credits for projects going forward after 2024. The Clean Electricity Investment Credit and the Clean Electricity Production Credit will work much as the investment tax credit, and will apply to any generation site the secretary of the treasury finds to have a zero greenhouse emissions rate.