by Max Brantley
In Lt. Gov. Mark Darr's tirade over efforts to protect the environment (his SUV isn't hurting any polar bears, he whined) — an official letter from his office that you and I got to pay for with our tax dollars — he mentioned a "$500,000 solar panel" that had "never been turned on."
Darr can relax. At 8 a.m. today, the Arkansas Economic Development Commission flipped the switch on a bank of
22 (or 23 AEDC's energy office head Scott Hamilton says) solar panels installed at its offices on Capitol Avenue, a spokesman for Entergy said. (No one’s home at AEDC; we couldn’t find anyone there to confirm that. Maybe later.)
The delay in getting the solar panels up and running — they were installed in 2009 with stimulus dollars — was caused by potential legal problems in a net metering agreement drafted by Entergy and AEDC.
Originally, Hamilton said, the net metering agreement had an indemnification clause would have made the state liable for damages the panels might cause Entergy's grid. But Entergy and AEDC were watching to see how the court would rule in on a similar contract between Arkansas Tech University and Entergy. The state Court of Appeals ruled that state agencies can't indemnify against damage, and the state Supreme Court let that ruling stand. Because of that result, AEDC and Entergy drafted a new net metering agreement, which was approved by the Public Service Commission and signed by Entergy yesterday. (Now, Entergy’s remedy is at the state Claims Commission rather than AEDC.)
The panels will only provide up to 7 percent of the four-story building's energy needs, Hamilton said. But that's not the point. It's a green technology that’s better for the environment and it shows interested developers that the state backs renewable energy, "Someone has to step out front" when technology is new to promote it, Hamilton said.
UPDATE: AEDC confirms the panels, numbering 23, have been switched on.