story by Ryan Saylor, special to The City Wire
BENTONVILLE – Business and policy leaders in the energy industry met Thursday (July 19) at NorthWest Arkansas Community College’s Shewmaker Center for Technology Development to discuss renewable energy solutions across Arkansas and how the budding sector is helping drive economic growth across the state.
According to data provided by the Arkansas Advanced Energy Association and Advanced Energy Economy, global energy consumption is projected to rise nearly 40% by 2030. Due to the rapid expansion of energy needs, companies are adapting by offering alternative energy solutions.
“Our mission is to accelerate learning about sustainability and to expand sustainable practices,” Michele Halsell, Managing Director of the Applied Sustainability Center at the Sam M. Walton College of Business, told The City Wire. “Energy is a big component because it touches both the economy and job creation.”
Part of expanding sustainable practices involves businesses listening to the needs of consumers and adapting their product lines accordingly. Jerry McCormick, Director of Administration and Operations at NextGen Illumination in Fayetteville, says that is exactly what his company did.
“We listened to what poultry farmers needed,” McCormick said. As a result, NextGen was able to create and manufacture efficient LED lighting that allowed Lincoln poultry farmer Gene Pharr to save $5,000 a year in electricity bills. Not only did save Pharr money that he can reinvest in his business, but the lights used on his poultry farm created high paying jobs right here in Arkansas.
“The people in the Arkansas government, both at the state and local levels, were a lot more open than the administration in [Washington],” McCormick told fellow energy sector leaders.
It's not just state and local leaders who are open to alternative energy solutions as more consumers are taking note. In a survey conducted by J.Z. Analytics for Advanced Energy Solutions, 88% of Arkansas residents surveyed said that they think it is important to the state economy to manufacture advanced energy products, such as wind turbine components, right here at home.
According to the poll, Arkansans also view the United States’ dependence on foreign oil as a crisis or a major problem. One solution discussed during Thursday’s meeting was Arkansas Oklahoma Gas Corporation’s conversion of 50 vehicles to run on compressed natural gas, or CNG.
Jason Brannen, director of energy efficiency programs for Arkansas Oklahoma Gas Corp. (AOG) in Fort Smith, said natural gas is in abundance in Arkansas and at $1.35 per gallon, it allows companies running fleets of vehicles to see immediate savings.
“Conversions cost $10,000 to $12,000, so unfortunately it’s not inexpensive,” Brannen said. “You have to be in a situation where you’ll put enough miles on a vehicle to get a payback.”
Even with the high cost of conversion, Brannen said that AOG.’s fueling station in Fort Smith is increasingly at or near capacity, meaning more fueling stations are likely in the future.
For individuals who cannot afford to convert their vehicle to CNG, Brannen says there is another solution to save on energy costs.
“Our weatherization program is at no cost to the [AOG] customer. If you apply and your home qualifies, we’ll come out and do up to $3,000 worth of work on those homes.”
In explaining the work that his crews perform in a home during weatherization, Brannen told The City Wire that installing additional insulation in the attic and caulking around windows and doors will give homeowners the largest cost savings.
If you are interested in saving energy and money in other ways, there are options. Several appliance makers are taking part in the Energy Star mail in rebate program. Additionally, there may be additional tax credits available in your city or through federal programs.
To help consumers make it through the bureaucratic red tape, Iberiabank in Springdale has charged assistant vice president Keaton Smith with helping customers finance their energy-saving home improvements.
Keaton says that Iberiabank can help customers combine rebates, tax credits and either a private loan or a home equity loan to pay for home improvements.
“The savings are guaranteed when a customer saves more in energy costs than they are paying for a small home improvement loan,” Smith said. “It’s a win, win.”