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Ouachita Electric’s Mark Cayce Says Power Lines Drawn for Solar Energy

3 min read
Mark Cayce has served as general manager of Ouachita Electric Cooperative in Camden since 2012. Prior to that, he was operations manager of Jackson Electric Cooperative in Edna, Texas, and manager of TXU Energy in Grapevine, Texas. Cayce holds a bachelor’s degree in business administration from the University of North Texas in Denton.

Cayce is chairman of the board of the Ouachita Valley Community Foundation and a past president of the Camden Rotary Club.

Has OECC filed the rate-decrease request spurred by solar power development with the state?

The rate filing package was sent to the Arkansas Public Service Commission on Oct. 31, 2019. The single largest expense for Ouachita Electric Cooperative is our cost of power. Our power cost is divided into two parts, energy and summer peak demand. The summer peak is the average of the highest peak hour in each of the four summer months (June, July, August and September). These are prime generating times for solar installations. Solar naturally lowers our summer peak. Since 2016, approximately 8 megawatts of solar generation have been added to our system.

Also, more than 10% of our full-time residential members have participated in our energy efficiency program Help Pays, receiving new highly efficient HVAC equipment, further reducing our summer peak by another 2 megawatts. These efforts combined with improvements to our electric distribution system have resulted in our requesting a reduction of 4.5% to our total revenue requirements.

OECC is known for innovation in conservation, efficiency, renewable energy and member-friendly finance. What’s the philosophy there?

You have to go back to 2012 to fully understand our philosophy. A major employer had just closed its doors and laid off about 350 employees. … We would speak with members every day that were facing having their electricity shut off. They could not afford the solutions to their problems. They were struggling to keep their lights on and did not have the means to pay for the necessary work to their homes.

We began financing energy improvements on the electric bill to pay for insulation, air sealing and duct sealing. The savings from the improvements would make the payments. This was helping, but most members could not take advantage of the loan program. Renters and multifamily dwellings were left out, and we knew the biggest users of energy were old heating and air conditioning systems.

It was at this time we discovered tariff-based billing. Our members could receive new highly efficient equipment and improvements in apartments and rental property; 80% of the savings would pay us back for investing in these homes and participants would receive 20% of the savings.

What does the electric cooperative look like in five years?

Technology is creating massive disruption in the electric utility industry. Electronic metering, rate designs, new markets and new forms of generation will all play a role. … Distributed generation will become the norm and, at the same time, prices will fall and power will be more reliable.

The greatest opportunity of the last 50 years is literally shining right in our eyes, but we are being constrained by antiquated ideas and industries that want to control the use of the sun.

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