Arkansas energy industry leaders gathered for a panel on solar power, with an extended discussion on the current energy crisis caused by extreme weather conditions.
The Rotary Club of Little Rock hosted a virtual Solar Panel Discussion on Feb. 16. The panel featured speakers Buddy Hasten of Arkansas Electric Cooperatives (AEC), Kurt Castleberry of Entergy, Matt Bell of Entegrity Partners and Josh Davenport of Seal Solar. The panel discussed the current weather situations and its effects on energy, alternative energy sources and a focus on solar grids.
Hasten and Castleberry each shared how their companies have approached the last couple of days as far as conserving energy (electricity, heaters, etc) has been concerned. AEC uses Southwest Power Pool (SPP) and Midcontinent Independent System Operator (MISO) for different areas of the state. Hasten said SPP has declared an Emergency Energy Alert between levels two and three for the dates of Feb.15 and Feb.16 for certain customers. AEC was not on SPP’s list of at-risk customers until this morning, but SPP rescinded an order to issue moderated energy conservation on AEC clients. “The risk of having what we would term “rolling blackouts” is going down, but probably not at a zero [chance] yet,” said Hasten. “We’re still on high alert.”
Entergy also uses MISO as an electric operator, and both Castleberry and Hasten reported during the panel that MISO has not had many issues during this winter weather period. Emergency weather precautions have been communicated, but as of 12pm on Feb. 16, rolling blackouts had not been issued from MISO. “MISO has extended its conservative operations through all day tomorrow,” said Castleberry. “We have sent a message to all of our customers encouraging them to conserve electricity when they can, and we have provided [them] how [they] might do that.” Rolling blackouts were subsequently issued for the evening of Feb. 16 for select areas of the state.
Addressing more general energy news for each business represented on the panel, solar energy, a renewable and alternative source to fossil fuel, was hit on. Entergy is the largest solar provider in the state with many solar plants spread throughout. Entergy plans to continue promoting solar energy in Arkansas for residential and commercial properties. “Entergy Arkansas believes that renewable energy is critical to the future of our state and we are committed to continuing to bring more solar plants online in a way that benefits all of our customers,” said Castleberry.
AEC uses a diverse blend of resources for energy, including 25 percent coal, 25 percent gas and a mixture of renewable energy sources, which provide customers with power. A diverse source of energy was agreed upon by each representative on the panel as being an important combination to have as not one energy source is flawless. Bell noted that a smart grid and infrastructure are vital to maintaining a reliable energy supply through any weather or season. “The problem in Texas right now is not the wind farms – the wind farms only account for 17 percent. What happened there was the natural gas resources that are accounting for 26 gigawatts of load were being allocated to heating use. Only 4 gigawatts of solar or wind are actually there,” said Bell. “The problem is the resource allocation.” Where one resource fails, another can take its place so the power never runs out.
Solar energy and battery storage were noted as being of the most cost-effective energy sources in the state of Arkansas. Davenport explained the growing market of solar energy in the state and what the future could look like for Arkansans as the state keeps up with the rest of the globe. “The disruption [in society] we’re seeing right now is technology innovation disruption. That’s wind, solar, [energy] storage,” said Davenport. Major companies like Tesla are driving the electric world with cars and the recent Semi prototype that is fully electric. Solar and batteries are quickly becoming common alternatives to fossil fuels for cars and homes. “I think that one day we will be able to see a homeowner make one transaction and be able to put [solar] panels on their roof, batteries in their garage, an electric vehicle in that garage and completely electrify with that one transaction.”
Policy changes in the state have made it easier for third party solar projects to take place in Arkansas. Non-profits, like schools, can have more access to solar power through a decrease in tax credit in favor of organizations in the state of Arkansas. Entegrity has been working with many school districts, libraries and universities for solar energy additions at low costs.
Entergy is also finding ways to make cost effective changes for customers through tariffs. “We heard from our customers that they wanted direct access to our solar facilities, so this tariff was approved by the commission and has sold out,” said Castleberry. The tariffs allow customers to create their own objectives, greater access and more opportunities to save money. Plans are in the making for more ways for tariffs and cost-efficient options for customers.
Hasten referenced how continued change in costs and the amount of resources the state keeps and lets go of is vital in allowing the state to continue to maintain a low cost balance. “[The panelists] need to work together to make sure we have a smart plan as the state of Arkansas going into this and to make the most value out of the resources we have,” said Hasten.