Special Report: Solar power trend sweeping across Arkansas

Special Reports

POPE COUNTY, Ark. – A promise of lowered bills has some school districts and even cities all across the state taking interest in solar power.

Dozens of districts have already taken the plunge after legislation passed by our legislature earlier this year that has the Natural State driving the solar switch.

“You’re looking at well over 200 thousand a year in electrical expenses, really over 250 thousand dollars a year,” says Josh Daniels, Dover Schools Superintendent.

Crunching the numbers, when it comes to Superintendent Daniels, is all about doing more with less.

“That’s cost saving for the district so that we can supply the students and staff with the things that they need,” he continues.

The small Pope County school district is looking into a big trend.

“Sky is the limit when you are saving money. You can do a lot of different things with it,” Daniels says.

It won’t cost the district a dime up-front.

“The sun produces the power into the panels and the panels convert it to electricity,” explains Scotty Caroom with Excel Energy Group.

The solar switch has flooded Arkansas.

“We have the most favorable legislation, we have great sunshine. The conditions are so right,” he adds.

Caroom’s Russellville-based company focuses on energy saving plans for school districts all across the country. The company’s newest tool is solar power.

“The basic cost, there is nothing out of their pocket and say most districts now they are paying about nine cents per kwh (kilowatt hour), the unit of electricity that they pay on. With solar, they can pay about six cents,” says Caroom.

Legislation passed in this year’s Arkansas General Assembly is making the expense of solar more favorable for school districts.

“At the end of the bill what we have done is we’ve made energy a consumer-driven product rather than a producer-driven product,” says Dave Wallace, State Senator for District 22.

Sen. Wallace authored the bill, with schools in mind.

“Within just weeks of that bill passing, you could see schools popping up wanting more information, talking about it, calling me,” Wallace continues.

Basically the company, like Caroom’s Excel Energy, fronts the cost.

“Over the years you can save hundreds of thousands of dollars if not millions” he says.

Then, the district pays over time, while saving money on its energy bill.

“Schools need that money and this is a chance to get some of it,” says Wallace.

So far, dozens of school districts in Arkansas have hopped on the solar train. Batesville was the first to complete a solar field and the savings are rolling in. That was Wallace’s main goal.

“And you never have enough money to go around for what we need most, which is educating our kids” Wallace adds.

And for the Dover School District, money saved can go a long way.

“It can go into anything. You can buy students computers, text books. It can help with teachers salaries,” says Daniels.

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