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Allow Counties to Innovate (Barry Hyde Commentary)

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As the Pulaski County judge, I am responsible for assuring that exceptional services are provided to my constituents. Additionally, I am deeply committed and highly focused on harnessing the constitutional and statutory authority granted Pulaski County to create a culture of innovation in Pulaski County.

In particular, innovation regarding energy conservation and renewable resource distributed generation demands attention. Why, you might ask? Pulaski County, like most local governments in Arkansas and around the country, faces consistent budgetary strains. It’s always seeking to balance the protection of our citizens’ health, safety and welfare, the provision of adequate infrastructure and the promotion of vibrant communities while facing limited resources. Likewise, families and businesses must assess the benefits of capital investments to engage in energy-efficiency measures and renewable resource generation against other financial obligations.

Pulaski County is taking three approaches to promote innovative energy conservation and aid the development of markets for energy and water conservation and renewable resource-distributed generation for our citizens.

First, Pulaski County created an energy improvement district to form a Property Assessed Clean Energy market, providing property owners the potential to finance energy and water conservation and renewable energy projects. PACE has many financial and environmental benefits.

Most importantly, Pulaski County’s PACE program allows approved property owners to finance renewable energy and energy-efficiency improvements by attaching the cost of these projects to their property tax bill. Each project is amortized for up to 20 years, while providing the property owner with energy cost savings that exceed the project’s overall cost. PACE is a dynamic tool, providing a means for property owners to cost-effectively pursue energy conservation and renewable energy projects today as opposed to kicking the proverbial can down the road.

Next, Pulaski County is in the process of utilizing an energy cost savings program for its own facilities. The Arkansas Energy Performance Contracting program is facilitated by the Arkansas Energy Office within the Arkansas Economic Development Commission. EPC is a financing mechanism that, based on a savings guarantee, employs energy cost savings as a revenue stream to pay for energy- and water-efficiency improvements while addressing deferred maintenance.

The crucial element of EPC is that the energy services company is obligated to pay the difference if the customer doesn’t realize the guaranteed savings. This program is useful because Pulaski County operates space totaling 836,803 SF, with a substantial portion requiring vast amounts of electricity, natural gas and water. Further, Pulaski County will spend roughly $1.5 million of its approximately $70 million general fund appropriation, or about 2 percent of its budget, on utilities. Reducing utility costs will allow Pulaski County to become an even more effective steward of taxpayer funds.

Lastly, Pulaski County has intervened in Docket Numbers 16-027-R and 16-028-U at the Arkansas Public Service Commission. These dockets pertain to distributed generation and net metering. While this commentary does not provide enough space to dive into the nuances, in a nutshell, distributed generation is decentralized power generation, often generated at the point of consumption, while net metering is the energy-accounting framework allowing consumer-generated excess power to be credited for future use and for power to be fed into and distributed on the electric grid. Pulaski County is calling for rules and policies that will encourage technological innovation and promote a robust marketplace for distributed generation and expanded markets for net metering. Specifically, Pulaski County is asking that the existing law be clarified because an emerging market demands clarity. Many thriving and influential entities and local governments, primarily outside of Arkansas, are generating renewable resources on-site as well as net metering, and a fair and equitable net metering and distributed generation policy would benefit not just Pulaski County but the whole state.

People and businesses have unlimited options on where they live and operate. In creating a PACE district, advocating for transformative policies and equitable rules on distributed generation and net metering at the PSC, as well as beginning the Energy Performance Contracting process, Pulaski County is engaging not in economic development, but economy development. My intention is for a culture of innovation to ripen in Pulaski County, rivaling anywhere in this country.

Email Pulaski County Judge Barry Hyde at BHyde@PulaskiCounty.net.
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