A Champion of Solar Rises In South: Ouachita Electric

By Kyle Massey

Mark Cayce has seen the light and it is solar.

As CEO of Ouachita Electric Cooperative Corp. in Camden, he has made sun power a cornerstone of innovative programs serving a high-tech cor­ner of Arkansas: the defense manufacturing cluster In East Camden, home 10 a 12-megawatt solar army that was the largest in the state when it was built three years ago.

Now Cayce is promoting solar power on several fronts at a pivotal time for energy policy, and he's adding rooftop projects to a program that lets co-op members finance efficiency improve­ments on their electric bills.

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Cayce, doubling as board chairman of solar array developer Today's Power Inc., says be has a simple reason for meta­phorically basking in the sun.

"It helps our members;” he said. “Solar reduces our peak load in summertime, and cutting that load has real value for us. That savings lets us lower the overall cost of power to all our members.

"Not many people might think it, but little ol' Camden and the Highland industrial Park [in East Camden) are pretty high-tech places."

As TPI chair, Cayce preaches solar's environmental benefits and cost-saving potential for homeowners, landlords and businesses. 'TPl, of Little Rock, has built 23 small utility-scale solar installa­tions in Arkansas and beyond. A wholly owned subsidiary of Arkansas Electric Cooperatives Inc., TPI is quickening the pace of its projects.

Cayce is also speaking out as Arkansas faces policy decisions that could spur or chill solar development, and Democrats in Congress crusade for a “Green New Deal." Arkansas is the 11th-sunniest state on average, but lts 369 solar jobs in 2018 ranked near last per capita. That's despite a 30 percent increase from 287 solar Jobs In 2017, according to the Solar Foundation's 2018 national jobs census released last week.

Nationwide, 242,000 workers in the solar industry numbered about 8,000 fewer than in 2017, with declines aurib­ured to project delays stoked by uncertainty over import tariffs on solar pan­els. Policy bumps and economic condi­tions in some states also contributed, the report said.

In Arkansas, a battle over solar electricity rates has raged at the Arkansas Public Service Commission for three years, and action recently shifted from the regulatory agency to the state Legislature.

Jennah Denney