Arkansas will receive just over $10 million in federal grant funding over two years to improve the structure of its power grid, the state Department of Finance and Administration announced Wednesday.
The grant, totaling $5.16 million the first year and $5.14 million the second year, is funded through the Grid Enhancement Grant program, which comes from the U.S. Department of Energy through the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act.
The 2021 infrastructure bill allocated $13 billion in new financing opportunities for the expansion and modernization of the nation's electric grid.
According to the U.S Energy Information Administration, from January to June Arkansans were included in four major power outages caused by severe weather that affected more than 50,000 customers across four states for one or more hours.
The first, on Jan. 1, included 60,958 people and lasted nine and a half hours.
On Feb. 2, 74,426 customers lost power in an outage that lasted 11½ hours.
On March 31, the day EF3 tornadoes ripped through Little Rock, North Little Rock and Wynne, 58,368 customers lost power for two hours and 45 minutes.
On June 25, 64,732 lost power in an outage that lasted more than 22 hours.
"This year's historic natural disasters underscored the critical importance of our electric grid," said Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders in a statement. "We need the grid to run to keep our entire state moving. This investment will enhance our grid's resiliency to help in future crisis events, benefiting Arkansans for years to come."
According to an Axios report citing data from the U.S Energy Information Administration, the average Arkansan experienced 5.27 hours without electric service in 2021. That was down from a total of 11.81 hours in 2020.
In its release, the state finance department noted that the goal of the Grid Enhancement Grant is to strengthen and modernize America's power grid against wildfires, extreme weather and other natural disasters. Those who could qualify for grant money include electric grid operators, electricity storage operators, electricity generators, transmission owners or operators, distribution providers and fuel suppliers.
"We will work closely with our partners to establish the process through which the grants will be distributed," Becky Keogh, infrastructure coordinator for the state of Arkansas, said in a news release. "As Arkansans continue to recover from the March tornadoes along with other major weather events, we have a great opportunity to enhance our grid going forward."
The finance department held a Zoom meeting in May to solicit feedback from the public on how funds from the grant should be used.
Based on grant guidance, "not less than a certain amount of the total federal formula funds to the state each year must be allocated to small utilities, based on the number of customers in Arkansas served by small utilities (those who sell not more than 4,000,000 MWh of electricity per year)," the news release said.
According to a finance department program narrative for the grant, the department plans to use 5% of the grant funds for administrative costs.
"In addition to the initial $10 million, we anticipate more funding will be made available through the Grid Enhancement Grant program," said finance department Secretary Jim Hudson in a statement. "Citizens across the state partnered to support our fellow Arkansans affected by the historic weather events earlier this year. Investing in our grid is one more way we can take action to keep Arkansans safe should we ever face this again."
Organizations interested in applying for grant money may email questions to [email protected].
Details regarding the application process and timeline will be posted to the finance department's website.
When applications have been submitted, the state infrastructure coordinator and the advisory committee will review completed applications that are eligible.
Criteria for whether an award is received includes: Potential of the project to minimize the frequency and duration of power outages; potential benefits that would impact communities identified as vulnerable and/or disadvantaged; potential benefits to the community to be achieved because of the project (e.g., reducing the likelihood and consequences of disruptive events), with priority given to projects that will generate the greatest community benefit (whether rural or urban); and potential for the project to further develop and strengthen the workforce responsible for project implementation.