Prime potential

Friday, April 19, 2013

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Clean, green, sustainable, renewable - all these terms reflect a conscious practice of using energy effectively that also lowers the impact on the environment. Once considered a progressive movement, alternative energy sources such as wind, solar, and biofuel are becoming a practical method to save money and spare limited resources. “Energy efficiency means reducing energy consumption, and since energy costs money, reducing consumption means saving money,” said Michele Halsell, managing director of the Applied Sustainability Center at the University of Arkansas.

This also has an impact on many levels, including the local economy. Home improvements directly create jobs of performing the physical work of the projects. There is also an indirect positive impact since the money saved on utility bills is typically spent elsewhere, Halsell said. The topic of green energy is not a lofty ideal of nonconformists, rather it is a consequential conversation being held by legislatures, organizations and communities across the country. Forward-thinking policy is being written into law and Arkansas — The Natural State — has great potential to join the leaders of energy reform. “Arkansas has an abundant renewable-energy resource in terms of biomass, solar and wind. Unfortunately, these resources have yet to be fully developed in order to diversify its energy portfolio and reduce energy costs for consumers,” said Steve Patterson, executive director of Arkansas Advanced Energy Association. Recently, the Arkansas General Assembly took up several motions of energy efficiency.


Arkansas became the 29th state to pass PACE legislation, which provides alternative financing for private property owners for energy-efficient, renewable energy and water conservation improvements. “These low-interest, long-term loans will be payable on the property owner’s annual tax assessment and will not exceed the amount of energy savings on the property,” Patterson said. “For business owners, PACE removes the upfront cost of energy-saving retrofi ts and allows them to increase cash fl ow while consuming less energy. For the regions of the state that implement PACE districts, it will mean considerable job growth in the energy-efficiency and renewable-energy sectors.” The bill has passed both chambers and is awaiting the signature of Gov. Mike Beebe.


This bill permits renewable-energy producers to retain a limited amount of net excess generation credit from one year to the next, for up to a period of four months. “Until now, those were zeroed out by the utility companies at the end of the year instead of credited to the person’s utility bills. [There is] already a law that allows overages from month to month,” said Joanna Pollock, communications director for the Arkansas Energy 2013 campaign. The bill was passed in the House and is awaiting Senate action.


This bill allows state-owned buildings to use their operation and maintenance budget to pay for energy efficiency improvements. “[Previously], the cost savings could not be captured due to strict cost-segregation regulations. This bill allows ... public facility owners to engage in larger and more complex facility improvements that will yield larger energy savings and cost savings,” said Mikel Lolley of Fayetteville, executive director of the nonprofit Treadwell Institute. The bill has passed both chambers and is awaiting the signature of Beebe.


These measures may seem trite, but current policies bind improvements and without new legislation, the details are defined by the past. Another proposal, The Distribution Generation Act of 2013, never made it out of the committee so no vote was cast. This act aimed to increase the use of renewable-energy resources in the state, thus reducing transmission and distribution costs, creating local jobs and improving independence. "History tells us, the early adopters — those who adapt quickly to the transformational changes — reap the greatest rewards, the steepest dividends, and essentially own the future,” Lolley said. “History also tells us that those who cling to increasingly irrelevant business models — the status quo — marginalize themselves and wither on the vine."

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