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PSC sets 4th hearing on net metering in solar-power climate – Arkansas Democrat

Here we go again.

This week the Arkansas Public Service Commission is scheduled to hold another public hearing to gain feedback on net metering — the fourth hearing related to the issue over nearly four years.

The three-member commission is compiling tons of documentation and public comments, but has yet to rule on net metering, in particular how it could affect the expanding solar power sector.

Solar shines on, however, as providers are lining up customers interested in shaving tons off their electric costs.

Wednesday’s hearing is open for public comment only. There will be no witnesses from the electric utilities and solar development advocates that are party to the case.

This should be the last time a public hearing on the issue is needed.

“This is not really a big deal,” commission chairman Ted Thomas said of the pending hearing. “But we should have a ruling in the next four weeks, and that will be a big deal.”

The coming hearing is a “procedural anomaly” to make sure the commission is complying with public hearing requirements established by the state Bureau of Legislative Affairs, which monitors state agency rules.

The commission is merely checking a box on a compliance form. The hearing will not reveal new information or change any positions.

“I’m sure that a lot of the folks that we heard from in December we’ll hear from again,” Thomas said.

An evidentiary hearing, with multiple witnesses testifying, was last held on Dec. 5.

Meanwhile, solar has been in the spotlight over the past two months.

Major agreements have been announced by Lexicon Inc., Innerplan Office Interiors, the city of Alma and Central Arkansas Water, among others. The water utility announced that it could save $7 million over 30 years by going solar; Lexicon noted it would save $320,000 annually in electric bills by using solar to help power its Little Rock headquarters and steel mill in Mississippi County.

In December, Bank OZK announced one of the largest local solar projects just a week after the previous Public Service Commission hearing. The bank is investing $6 million in a solar system to deliver electricity to its new corporate headquarters in west Little Rock and generate enough power to also light up 40 other banking locations in the state.

Net metering refers to how customers who have solar panels are credited for the excess power they return to the electric grid.

Entergy Arkansas leads other electric providers in the state in arguing that utilities pay too much for the power solar users return to the grid, and that leads to cost shifting that puts more of a financial burden on non-solar customers.

Solar advocates say existing rules that call on utilities to credit full retail rates for net metering should continue and do not result in unreasonable allocations of costs to other customers.

ARVEST SETS RECORD

Last week, Arvest Bank announced that it achieved a new record in mortgage lending in 2019.

The bank said mortgage loan volume for the year was more than $2.8 billion, a 39% increase over 2018 and a 9% increase over its previous record of more than $2.5 billion, which it set in 2012.

Arvest also noted that 2019 marks the fourth time — and second consecutive year — that it has topped $2 billion in mortgage-loan production.

“Our team was privileged to assist thousands of families with their home loan ne,” division president and Chief Executive Officer Steven Plaisance said. “While many benefited from the low rates to refinance, we were also excited to assist a record number of families purchase homes.”

Arvest services 99% of its mortgage loans, meaning that customers make their payments to Arvest and work directly with Arvest for any ne after their loan closes. Arvest currently services more than 310,000 mortgage loans, totaling more than $59 billion.

FOOD AND DRUG

There’s still time to sign up to attend the annual educational conference for the Mid-Continental Association of Food and Drugs Officials. The conference runs Feb. 25-26 at the Embassy Suites in Rogers.

The day before the conference begins, the association is holding an environmental sampling workshop to teach practices that will help prevent illnesses from spreading in retail food services such as restaurants and groceries. The workshop is limited to 36 individuals on a first-come, first-serve basis.

That same day, Feb. 24, there will be a Heartland Food Safety Roundtable meeting to discuss hot-topic issues related to food safety. The round-table includes local, state, regional and national food-safety regulators who provide the latest information to protect consumers from catching or spreading illness in a retail environment.

Both meetings also are scheduled at the Embassy Suites.

More information is available at mcafdo.afdo.org.

GOING ON TWO DECADES

Midnight today is the deadline for student teams to enter the Governor’s Cup competition, which has an all-cash $154,000 prize pool available. This is the 20th year of the competition, which helps students understand and overcome the challenges that arise in startup businesses.

Arkansas college and university students who want to explore a business idea or learn more about entrepreneurship are invited to compete. More than 40 teams are expected in this year’s event, which concludes with winners announced in April.

The Governor’s Cup puts student teams through real-world challenges to test their skills in running a competitive business.

Arkansas Capital Corp. along with other partners sponsor the program. Nearly $2.5 million has been invested by sponsors since 2001.

RISE UP INITIATIVE

AOL founder Steve Case is taking his latest entrepreneurial initiative to Northwest Arkansas in April.

Revolution’s Rise of the Rest road trip will be in Northwest Arkansas, Kansas and Oklahoma from April 20-24 to hear business pitches from entrepreneurs interested in winning a $100,000 investment.

Feb. 24 is the deadline to sign up for a pitch opportunity.

The current schedule has the tour stopping in Northwest Arkansas on April 23. Information on signing up is available at revolution.com.

Rise of the Rest is a nationwide effort that invests in and mentors entrepreneurs.

Since 2014, the bus tour has traveled nearly 12,000 miles to 43 cities, investing in startups along the way. At each stop, Rise of the Rest awards $100,000 to a local entrepreneur.

In addition to Case, investors include the Walton family, the Koch family, Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, former Starbucks Chairman and CEO Howard Schultz, and dozens of other noted business leaders.