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On Wednesday, the Central Arkansas Library System will join hundreds of residential and commercial customers who are lighting up Arkansas -- not for the holidays but to save millions of dollars on their electric bills.

The library system is switching to a 66-kilowatt solar array that will power more than 5,600 lamps, fixtures and controls at the Hillary Rodham Clinton Children's Library. Lifetime cost reductions are projected to reach $3.8 million, promising savings of more than $200,000 annually from the system installed by Entegrity Energy Partners of Fayetteville.

That project is one small example of how solar is transforming savings for customers, creating investment opportunities for solar companies and bursting with jobs for the construction industry.

Seal Solar of North Little Rock estimates that it has developed more than 325 solar projects over the past five years, leading to a doubling of its employee base.

Likewise, Entegrity says it has added 20 jobs this year and has about 40 solar projects under development. Those projects have led to about $40 million in construction business in Arkansas, the company projects.

Much of the development is being attributed to legislation that was approved earlier this year. That law allowed public entities -- local governments, schools and universities, for example -- to sign service agreements with solar companies.

The legislation, which went into effect in July, could double or triple the number of solar jobs in Arkansas, according to a study by the William H. Bowen School of Law in Little Rock.

Savings for public organizations abound: the Caruthersville School District estimates it will save more than $100,000 annually; the Batesville School District estimates its solar service agreement will save more than $360,000 a year.

Large public companies also are betting on a solar-powered future. Last week, Bank OZK said that it will invest more than $6 million to build a solar plant to power its new corporate headquarters, which will open in Little Rock next year. The project will generate 4.8 megawatts, enough to supply electricity to 40 other locations in Arkansas.

Though the spotlight is shining on private solar investments, the state's incumbent electric utilities also are advancing renewable energy.

Entergy Arkansas, the state's largest electric utility, has one large solar facility operating and two others planned. Entergy operates an 81-megawatt facility in Stuttgart that opened two years ago. Another 100-megawatt operation is underway in Chicot County and a similar-size solar facility is planned for Searcy, scheduled to open in 2021 with approval from state regulators.

Entergy projects that the total investment in the three projects is more than $300 million and will provide $170 million in benefits to its customers. In addition, about 600 construction jobs are related to the facilities.

That's part of an overall investment that the utility's parent company said it would make in renewable energy by 2030. Entergy announced in July that it plans to add 8,000 megawatts of new generating capacity between 2022 and 2030, with about half of that coming from renewable power sources, especially solar.

Arkansas Electric Cooperatives Inc. and its family of companies are contributing to the solar explosion, as well. The cooperatives are installing 137 megawatts of solar power in the state. That is projected to generate enough power to provide electricity to 26,500 homes for one year.

The utility says customers will save more than $2.5 million annually as a result of solar projects it has installed and is committed to putting in operation. Through its wholly owned subsidiary, Today's Power Inc., the cooperative has installed 21 projects in the past four years and plans to add six projects with another 18.5 megawatts this year.

Solar also is leading the Ouachita Electric Cooperative to reduce overall rates its 7,000 customers in five south Arkansas counties. The Public Service Commission staff says it's the first time it can recall a utility seeking a rate reduction for all customers. The decrease, company officials said in the filings, is fueled by advances in solar power, which has reduced peak-demand usage.

At peak demand, typically in the hotter months of July and August, utilities buy power in the open market to meet customers' needs. Solar is filling in for Ouachita Electric.

Residential customers have been going solar for years, motivated by substantial cost savings. Putting in solar panels typically will cost $20,000-$60,000 for residential users, according to solar installers. Savings over the 25-year life of the investment will range from $80,000-$150,000.

Signs point to solar continuing to increase. Statistics from Entergy show that customer accounts with solar more than doubled from 2018-19.

From its beginnings, solar was touted as the green alternative to fossil fuels, providing a cleaner and safer environment. Today, it's generating interest as another green alternative: putting more cash in the pockets of consumers and workers.

BOOT CAMP FOR ENTREPRENEURS

The Conductor, an entrepreneurial support organization in Conway, is accepting applications for its 2020 boot camp focused on the health care industry.

The organization is partnering with BioVentures, the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences and Arkansas IDeA Network of Biomedical Research Excellence for the fourth year to host a weeklong camp for undergraduate and graduate students from across the state. The camp focuses on innovative ways to solve problems in health care, and equips students with the knowledge and resources to start and fund their own health science venture.

Attendees will work closely with mentors and subject matter experts from the University of Central Arkansas, UAMS, and the business and entrepreneurship community.

Final applications are due by March 27. More information is available at www.arconductor.org/bootcamp.

LEADERSHIP TALES

Leaders who want to sharpen their storytelling skills to improve their presentations are invited to attend a workshop Jan. 21 at the Sam M. Walton College of Business in downtown Little Rock. The seminar costs $325 and will run from 8 a.m.-noon.

The workshop will teach how to develop and present powerful stories that engage an audience and help communicate a vision. Participants will learn how to create compelling stories that engage audiences and help overcome business challenges.

The session will be led by Tom Verdery, a retired business professor at John Brown University who has 34 years of experience at Proctor & Gamble. More information on the workshop or on how to register for the workship is available by contacting the school at (501) 374-2413.

Column ideas or recommendations? Thoughts or musings that need pursuing? Contact me at [email protected] or at (501) 378-3567.

SundayMonday Business on 12/15/2019

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