Volunteers, bird advocates, college students, and Audubon chapter members traveled from all parts of Arkansas for a day at the capitol in Little Rock. In early March, Audubon Arkansas held its first grassroots lobby day advocating for SB 145, also known as the Solar Access Act. According to its supporters, SB 145 would create more local jobs, remove regulatory barriers that have slowed the state’s solar market, and will pave the way for Arkansas to become a clean energy leader in the South.
During the visit, Audubon Arkansas staff and volunteers delivered more than 2,000 petition signatures, more than 60 local business sign-ons, and 50 handwritten letters to Governor Asa Hutchinson in support of the Solar Access Act. Best of all, the group witnessed the bill pass out of the joint energy committee and overwhelmingly passed out of the House the following day.
The bill then went to Governor Hutchinson, who signed the Solar Access Act, officially clearing the way for clean and environmentally friendly solar energy to thrive in the state of Arkansas. The passage, according to Gary Moody, executive director of Audubon Arkansas, was a no-brainer for Arkansas. Advocates and legislators came together in agreement on The Solar Access Act because it lowers the state’s carbon footprint, creates green jobs, and safeguards birds against the threats of climate change.
“We stressed that this is a market-based solution, where we've got a product now, in clean energy—particularly with solar—that is cost effective, that can save people money, and provide cleaner air and water. This is a big win-win," said Moody in an interview with Public News Service. “Expanding solar adoption is the right thing to do for people and birds like the Yellow-throated Warbler, Eastern Whip-poor-will, and Scarlet Tanager.”
For Audubon volunteer Tom Utley, the battle is not done. Utley, a long-time member of the Sierra Club, says he has always been environmentally focused and interested in the potential of solar energy. In terms of being involved in the political process and advocacy work, Utley was stepping into new territory when he attended Audubon Arkansas’ kickoff event weeks before lobby day. “When I saw the notification about this event, I knew I had to make a decision—to remain asleep and uninvolved or take a step forward on issues I fully support,” said Utley. “The culmination of my involvement came on lobby day. Advocating alongside fellow community members and working in tandem with senators and representatives for a common goal was an empowering feeling.”
Audrey Beedle, a campaign organizer for Audubon Arkansas who witnessed Utley’s growing enthusiasm and involvement, says that Utley was one the most proactive advocates in the campaign. Utley regularly attended core meetings, collected signatures from community members, encouraged his daughter to collect petitions as well, held a fundraiser for the campaign, and delivered signed petitions to legislators on lobby day.
From now until August, when the Solar Access Act becomes law, Utley plans to meet with officials in Arkansas’ Public Service Commission on the issue. In the meantime, Utley says he will continue to do local actions, serve as a community organizer, and educate his peers on the Solar Access Act.
“This enlightenment through doing advocacy work really came from a deep passion in the economic opportunities and environmental benefits of solar energy,” said Utley. “I guess what I realized, in the process of formally lobbying and articulating these passions in person versus online, is that I cannot be a complacent supporter anymore.”