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Pulaski, Washington Counties Plan Solar Savings for Taxpayers

4 min read

After four years of looking at options, Pulaski County has put solar power “squarely in the pipeline” with a bid proposal for building a multimillion-dollar sun farm on county property, a project expected to save taxpayers 25-35% on an electric bill that once ran $1.2 million a year.

The solar array will be designed to provide 80-100% of the power the county uses in its 40-odd buildings on 14 campuses in and around Little Rock.

Pulaski, the first of the state’s 75 counties to use energy performance contracting to have vendors install efficiency upgrades to cut the cost of lighting, HVAC and other power-hungry systems, is taking the next logical step with solar power, according to County Attorney Adam Fogleman.

“Energy performance contracting, now coupled with solar, isn’t just an environmental approach; it’s also a finance approach that gave us a budget-neutral strategy to address 10-plus years of deferred maintenance at county facilities,” Fogleman told the Arkansas Advanced Energy Association’s Finance & Infrastructure Summit Tuesday afternoon at Heifer International’s headquarters in Little Rock.

Fogleman said Phase 1 of the project, financed with $4 million of accumulated reserve funds and $1 million in Arkansas Natural Resources Commission funding, installed high-efficiency lighting and HVAC, as well as water conservation fixtures, at county facilities. Entegrity of Little Rock, the summit’s presenting sponsor, was contractor on that part of the project.

Phase 2 will be the solar installation, with a vendor to be determined through a two-part bid process. Under a law passed in the last legislative session going into effect at the end of July, public and nonprofit entities like counties, municipalities and schools will be able to contract with a third-party solar provider to build and maintain photovoltaic arrays, with the third-party owning the panels reaping tax incentives while the public or nonprofit entities get the energy savings.

“It’s a win-win,” Fogleman said, noting that Pulaski County is following that approach. “Senate Bill 145 let public entities take advantage of cost-effective solar. So we’ve issued an RFP that asks vendors to address 80 to 100% of the power needs of Pulaski County and the Little Rock Port Authority. We have two preferred locations, but we’re willing to consider others. The goal is to get to as near as 100% of our electricity needs as possible.”

Fogleman’s companion in a panel discussion moderated by AAEA Executive Director Katie Niebaum was Washington County Buildings & Grounds Director Dwight Gonzalez, who is overseeing his own $8 million efficiency contracting and solar project. He, too, sees the savings as a way to add value to county property by solving deferred maintenance.

“The 1960s had the space race, and technology just exploded,” Gonzalez said. “Now we’re in a second space race and an energy production race. And as technology continues to advance, we see the price go down for energy consumers.”

The solar array, to be designed and built by Seal Solar Solutions of North Little Rock and Lightwave Solar of Nashville, Tennessee, will be on three acres behind the Washington County animal shelter and youth detention center.

Seal and Lightwave, which reached a teaming agreement in August, are AAEA members and licensed Arkansas contractors who hire technicians with credentials from the North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners. Washington County’s energy efficiency work was done by Johnson Controls, an Irish multinational corporation with headquarters on Colonel Glenn Road in Little Rock.

“If the energy efficiency contract guarantees energy savings of $500,000 a year, and the savings end up being $400,000 a year, Washington County will get a $100,000 check,” Gonzalez said. “The taxpayers are guaranteed that savings.”

The Washington County project will use what’s called aggregate metering. If savings from the solar project exceed expectations, the excess energy will power the Washington County Jail, which the sheriff chose to withhold from from the energy contract.

Washington County will own its solar array, as opposed to the city of Fayetteville, which is in a power-purchase agreement with Today’s Power of Little Rock.

Fogleman said that by the end of 2019, “Pulaski County looks to be very close to flipping the switch” on its new solar power system.

In another discussion, Fogleman outlined Pulaski County’s Property-Assessed Clean Energy financing program, or PACE, which lets commercial enterprises pay off the cost of energy efficiency improvements with an assessment on their property tax bills.

Steve Quirk, director of business development for Johnson Controls, spoke on the value of Arkansas’ public-private partnership program, and another panel delved into on-bill financing for energy efficiency upgrades. That talk included Cynthia Adams, CEO of Pearl Certification, Tammy Agard, CEO of EEtility, and Mark Cayce, CEO of Ouachita Electric Cooperative Corp. in Camden.

Tricia Treece of the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality examined opportunities from a financial settlement reached by the federal Environmental Protection Agency with automaker Volkswagen over its cheating on air emissions tests.

The AAEA, representing 70 members in an advanced energy economy that employs 25,000 Arkansans, cited a University of Arkansas at Little Rock analysis that attributed $2.8 billion a year in economic output from advanced energy industries. The organization is a particular promoter of Arkansas Energy Performance Contracting, which since 2014 has fueled 21 projects in Arkansas with total executed contract values of $102.5 million guaranteeing $150 million in energy savings.

It is championed as an economic development tool for state agencies, colleges and universities, school districts and cities, counties and municipal utilities. “AEPC provides public entities the opportunity to use guaranteed energy savings to improve the operation efficiency of existing facilities without the need for upfront capital,” the AAEA program said.

“It’s good for all Arkansans and for the state of Arkansas,” Entegrity partner Matt Bell told the crowd. Entegrity was the winner of the Arkansas Advanced Energy Business Innovation Award in 2017.

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