Jefferson County officials held a “Flip the Switch” ceremony Tuesday afternoon to dedicate newly-installed solar array panels that are now providing power to public buildings in Pine Bluff.
Arkansas Lt. Governor Tim Griffin and Arkansas Commerce Secretary Mike Preston attended the event, which was hosted by Jefferson County Judge Gerald Robinson at the Jack Jones Juvenile Detention Center, where the panels are located.
The solar panels are the first county-owned solar array in Arkansas, according to a news release from the Arkansas Economic Development Commission.
Griffin offered his congratulations to Jefferson County for being a leader in leveraging this partnership with the private sector, saying, “I challenge other cities, counties and agencies to follow Jefferson County’s lead by taking advantage of this unique opportunity to invest in solar projects and drive sustainability and cost savings.”
The Jefferson County solar project is a result of new opportunities provided to local government, schools, including colleges and universities, churches, state agencies and non-profits through Act 464, passed by the state legislature during the 2019 General Assembly.
Non-taxed entities, such as county governments, will have the opportunity to benefit from federal incentives and unlock capital for investment in local communities.
The legislation sponsored by District 22 Sen. Dave Wallace of Leachville will cut costs and timelines on solar projects through provisions that increase the size limit of commercial net-metered solar arrays from 300 kilowatts to one megawatt and has generated a flurry among public entities showing interest in their own projects.
The array in Jefferson County will generate approximately 176 kilowatts of power.
Preston said, “The public private partnership utilized in this solar project is just the kind the state encourages as part of our overall economic development effort. I am proud to see our state knock down barriers and unlock capital for the benefit of local communities and provide new jobs.”
Robinson said the project is all about efficiency and saving the county millions of dollars.
Additionally, no tax dollars or bonds were used to pay for the project. The project funds will come from savings accrued through using solar power in multiple county buildings.
“We are very proud of the fact that we did not have to go to the people to find these savings,” Robinson said. “When a local government can find a way to be efficient and not have to worry our taxpayers to pay for something; that is a great thing. That is being efficient as a county government, and I think that is what people elect us to do.”
Robinson said that the solar panels will power all of the essential buildings within the county.
“There are several buildings that will utilize this, from the Juvenile Detention Center to the courthouse, to the county jail, even some of the buildings on Main Street,” Robinson said. “Several buildings are going to be affected. Even the road department and our recycling.”
The solar panels will guarantee Jefferson County a savings of $3.8 million to taxpayers over a 20 year period.
“This makes Jefferson County more independent and saves money,” Griffin said.
“This helps Jefferson County set a standard for the rest of the state. This is owned by the county, and is an example of counties and local governments taking matters into their own hands to be independent saying we need to make power, and we need to make it for ourselves. It is a general concept of self-sufficiency. That is an American value, and it is a great thing. They are going to save thousands and thousands of dollars in a year, and millions in the long term.”