HELENA-WEST HELENA, Ark. — Phillips County is making headlines in Arkansas for being the first government body to install solar energy, and they say the new technology will save taxpayers money.
The county is building a solar farm as part of its new criminal justice complex, and a judge says it will save the county about $50,000 a year.
Judge Clark Hall wants people to know when they get to Phillips County. That’s why a new solar-powered welcome sign is a part of a much bigger plan.
"When our visitors and people coming through our community see that, they’ll have a better impression about who we are,” Hall said.
Eventually there will be an entire three-acre solar farm in a 10-acre field across from the Helena Regional Medical Center.
"Our reputation here along the river hasn’t been stellar and outstanding lately, but we’re making progress,” he said.
Hall says it started with a new law passed this year by the state legislature. He says the Solar Access Act of 2019 allows third parties to invest in the equipment for government agencies in exchange for tax breaks in the years to come.
Meanwhile, Phillips County will provide electricity to the utility company and get a rebate on their bill.
Hall acknowledges population in small towns like Helena-West Helena is shrinking fast, and with the new census, he predicts Phillips County will lose state funding. That’s why they’re doing this and other things, like changing phone systems to sale $48,000 a year, he said.
He also said it was important to help the environment, especially in a rural area where most people are farmers.
"We can't change what the planet's going to do but we can change our attitude," Hall said. "Everything each person does, if each thing can help our planet survive longer, why not do it?”
He says the solar farm will be up and running this fall.
Several other counties in Arkansas are also on Phillips county’s heels. The company that sells the equipment says they expect Washington County in northwest Arkansas to make it official next.