SHIRLEY, Ark. – A Van Buren County man thought he would save money by going solar, but he scratched that plan when he claims the utility company’s demands became financially impossible.

David Cook said his monthly utilities for his Shirley home run between $250 to $300.

“I live in a 100-year-old home,” Cook said. “It’s very expensive to heat and cool.”

If he were to ditch the grid and lease solar panels instead, he said he would save $200-$250 every month.

“That would’ve completely offset the costs to go ahead and sign the lease agreement,” Cook said.

After a call to Cook’s electric company, Petit Jean Electric Cooperative, his projected big monthly savings turned upside down.

“Petit Jean says we have to have this insurance in order to protect their workers cause we’re actually hooking up our solar panels to the electric grid,” he explained.

Cook said Petit Jean required him to purchase a $1 million commercial insurance policy, pay a $500 application fee and buy other equipment as well.

“Because of the insurance, the extra requirements from Petit Jean has placed on it, I’ve heard quotes from $5,000 to $10,000 upfront,” Cook said. “That just prices you out of the market.”

Arkansas Advanced Energy Association Executive Director Lauren Waldrip said there is a handful of co-ops across Arkansas requiring insurance coverage and application fees, something she believes the Arkansas Public Service Commission never approved.

“Arkansas is really set up to be the leader in the advanced energy space. Those folks are having a tough time taking advantage of it,” Waldrip said.

In a written filing to the Arkansas Public Service Commission, Petit Jean confirms there is an application fee.

“The $500 amount of the application fee was determined by the cooperative’s board of directors in the good faith exercise of its management duties,” the company’s filing shows.

Petit Jean points to federal rules requiring insurance coverage, but the co-op hasn’t set a specific coverage amount, only that it be an appropriate amount.

The utility company told the state it did not need approval from the Arkansas Public Service Commission because it is following federal guidelines.

Back in Shirley, Cook’s plan to go solar is up in the air for now.

“We’ve realized we’re shooting at a moving target,” Cook said.

He said ‘going green’ is different depending on who you ask.

“I think the co-ops are great for rural Arkansas, but in this case they’ve forgotten their customers and leading with their profit margins,” Cook said.

The Arkansas Public Service Commission has launched a formal investigation into the alleged unauthorized net-metering practices of the electric co-ops. The commission is taking complaints and comments from the public, which can be submitted to the commission online or by calling 501-682-2051.

FOX 16 Investigates reached out to Petit Jean for a comment and was told the CEO would be the person to issue a statement. As of the publishing of this piece, no comment had been given.

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