Utilities

Arkansas's utilities — Entergy, CenterPoint, SWEPCo, and the electrical cooperatives — are essentially monopolies. The agreed upon "check" on those monopolies is the Arkansas Public Service Commission. Periodically, when the energy companies cry for a rate hike, there's hearings before the Commission, with the companies on one side and consumer activists and lawyers from the Attorney General's office on the other. The utilities typically get their revenue bump, but just as typically, they compromise for a lower rate hike than they wanted.

The Arkansas Public Service Commission hosted a day-long public hearing Tuesday on net metering, the industry term for people and businesses who generate their own electricity, typically through photovoltaic solar systems, and push that power back onto transmission lines.

Carroll County resident Pat Costner walks under her three solar arrays this warm autumn afternoon to a shed where she keeps a collection of heavy-duty batteries.

“They’re fully charged right now,” she says, gesturing at the noontime sun above our heads.

The retired Greenpeace senior scientist operates a grid-tied solar energy system with an unusual electrical utility meter.

“It tells me if I am buying or selling,” she says. “Today is a selling day.”