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Entergy Arkansas received much recognition recently for taking a beating at the Arkansas Public Service Commission, yet the company's commitment to solar energy has been relatively overlooked.

The company was on the downside of a ruling over net-metering and customers' solar usage, and was mandated to return $15 million to customers after first seeking a rate increase at the commission.

The state's largest electric utility, however, is making a substantial commitment to building solar farms to support the future energy needs of Arkansans.

Today, Entergy Arkansas is the largest solar power provider in the state based on generation capacity. By 2023, solar will comprise 6.4% of the capacity available to the company.

A week ago, Entergy announced its newest solar farm – the fourth it will develop in Arkansas – the 100-megawatt Walnut Bend facility that will be built on 900 acres near Brinkley.

Entergy began operating its first Arkansas solar plant in Stuttgart in 2017 and has two other 100-megawatt facilities under development in Lake Village and Searcy. The Lake Village plant is to start operating this year with Searcy going on line in 2021 and Walnut Bend in 2022.

The four resources combined will generate 381 megawatts of electricity for customers, enough to power about 61,000 homes. Entergy is investing more than $300 million in the facilities, and the company estimates the solar operations will save customers more than $200 million over the life of the plants.

Local communities and workers also stand to realize financial benefits through added tax dollars and job creation. The four communities will see annual tax collections increase by about $2.35 million, giving them more money to build infrastructure and support local school districts.

Entergy estimates that once completed the four projects together will create 700 construction jobs.

"Entergy Arkansas has intentionally developed a diverse mix of power sources," company spokesman David Lewis says, noting that the strategy helps hedge against price spikes in any one fuel type.

"Adding solar to the mix is part of our strategy for keeping rates competitive," he added. "Low rates make Arkansas competitive for businesses looking to site their next operation."

Solar will deliver emission-free energy that benefits the environment and should result in lower rates for customers, who also would avoid having fuel charges added to their bills.

Entergy Arkansas' solar investments reflect the overall commitment Entergy Corp. -- the New Orleans-based parent of the state utility -- is making to invest more in renewable energy.

Last year, Entergy Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Leo Denault said the company would add up to 8,000 megawatts of new generating capacity between 2022 and 2030, with a focus on solar and other non-hydroelectric renewable power sources.

Denault said the company would add 4,000 megawatts of power from renewable resources, representing about 13% of Entergy's generating capacity.

At the time of the announcement last summer, less than 1% of the company's generating capacity included renewable energy.

Entergy Corp. delivers electricity to 2.9 million customers in Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas. The company's Arkansas subsidiary serves more than 700,000 customers in 63 counties and employs about 3,500 Arkansans.

LOCAL INVESTMENTS

Community improvement efforts got a boost last week with the Arkansas Economic Development Commission announcing nearly $7.2 million in grants to 23 counties and communities.

Grants were awarded under the general assistance set-aside program, which provides funding support for non-housing public facility and public infrastructure projects in the state.

Funds flow to the Arkansas economic development agency from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development as part of the Community Development Block Grant program.

New water construction projects won the largest grants, with Bodcaw in Nevada County being awarded $558,162 and Briarcliff in Baxter County receiving $1 million to build those infrastructure improvements. Another $1 million was awarded to Flippin in Marion County for a new wastewater project.

Across the state, projects include construction of a local health unit, emergency shelter improvements, expansion of a food pantry serving area residents and renovation of a child advocacy center.

Any Arkansas community with a population of under 50,000 that has at least 51% of the area benefiting from a project is eligible for financial support.

A full list of the 23 projects is available at https://www.arkansasedc.com/grants.

THRIFTY ARKANSAS

Good news from the national Tax Foundation: Your dollar buys more in Arkansas than anywhere else in the country.

According to the Tax Foundation, Arkansas has the highest relative value of $100 at $117.23. That means that the same amount of money has more buying power in Arkansas than in other states.

Mississippi was second-best at $116.28 followed by Alabama at $115.74.

Where do goods cost the most? Hawaii is the leader with $100 having only $84.67 in spending power. New York followed at $85.91, and Washington, D.C. was third-priciest at $86.13.

Thirteen other states fell below the $100 threshold, principally in the Northeast, along the Eastern Seaboard and on the West Coast.

On the local end, Pine Bluff at $122.85 and Jonesboro at $120.05 were among the least-expensive metropolitan areas in the nation. The Little Rock metropolitan area was $112.11; the Northwest corridor was $112.61; and the Fort Smith area was $119.76. Rural areas were at $124.07.

The foundation's study is based on data from the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis, which measures real personal income by state and metropolitan area. The latest estimates are for prices in 2018 and give a snapshot of the cost of living in each state.

The Tax Foundation is a nonprofit organization based in Washington, D.C., that collects data and publishes research studies on U.S. tax policies.

LEADERSHIP TRAINING

Looking to develop your leadership skills?

Sign up now with the University of Arkansas Walton College of Executive Education for its Sept. 3 virtual course in strategic leadership. The course will teach skills needed to understand leadership and strategy for corporate executives to focus on winning the long-term battle.

The program will use examples from the world of military and corporate strategy to identify the essential tasks strategic leaders need to concentrate on to be successful. Participants will gain insight into how their character, competence and behavior can influence others, as well.

The course will teach leadership skills that focus on preparation and developing mentors. The course outlines notes that spending time thinking about leadership provides an invaluable road map for the leadership development journey.

The virtual course will be conducted via Zoom from 9 a.m. to noon. Go to https://execed.uark.edu/ to register.

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