by Kyle Massey
Scenic Hill Solar, led by former Arkansas lieutenant governor Bill Halter, has landed big work for its first projects — the multimillion-dollar job of putting thousands of solar panels on two L'Oreal USA cosmetics factories in North Little Rock and Florence, Kentucky.
L'Oreal said the projects would create the largest commercial solar facility in Kentucky and the third largest in Arkansas, with 5,000 solar panels on the roof of the Kentucky plant and 4,000 panels on 8 acres next to the Arkansas facility, off Interstate 40 just east of North Little Rock.
Scenic Hill, named for the neighborhood where Halter grew up in North Little Rock, was established last year after Halter became involved in the solar industry as a board member for Fayetteville startup Picasolar Inc. in May 2014.
Halter, the Little Rock-based solar company's CEO, said he was proud to be partnered with a global leader in sustainable energy, adding that the two solar installations would produce some $7.5 million worth of electricity over 30 years.
Construction is expected to begin this year, employing about 25 people at each site over four months, and the arrays should start producing electricity in 2017. Halter said the North Little Rock facility will be a 1.2 megawatt DC plant and that the combined facilities should lower L'Oreal USA's carbon emissions by more than 75,000 tons.
"It's a great set of inaugural projects for us," Halter told Arkansas Business on Tuesday. "I've characterized these kinds of projects as a triple or quadruple win. Companies get lower electricity prices, and they get predictability over 30 years. The third win is that clients can meet sustainability goals, and of course customers like products that are produced sustainably."
L'Oreal emphasized that the arrays will help it cut carbon emissions and allow the company's five manufacturing plants in the U.S. to use only sustainable electricity. With these two solar installations, which will be owned by the cosmetics company but operated and maintained by Scenic Hill, L'Oreal will have 16 solar stations around the country.
"We are committed to being a sustainability leader in the United States and are proud of the progress we have made," said a statement from Frederic Roze, CEO of L'Oreal Americas, which has been making cosmetics at the North Little Rock site for 40 years.
Halter said the opportunity with L'Oreal evolved, but then picked up speed quickly.
"In the process of digging in and helping Picasolar as a board member I became aware of the big possibilities in commercial solar," said Halter, a Little Rock Catholic graduate trained at Stanford University and Oxford. "Initially I met with L'Oreal people and began discussing their significant goals in sustainable energy. Then we began to size the project, and plans started developing pretty rapidly."
L'Oreal will get 10 percent of its power for the 446,691-SF Arkansas plant and the 687,000-SF Kentucky plant from the solar panels, with the rest of the plants' energy coming from hydroelectric sources.
Richard Jones, head of manufacturing for L'Oreal USA, praised Scenic Hill for being "fantastic" through the planning process.
"When we set out to achieve our sustainability goals, we knew we needed to find a good partner on the ground to help us carry out these projects," Jones said. "These are some of our biggest sites worldwide."
Halter, a Democrat who in his political career was a major force behind the establishment of the Arkansas Scholarship Lottery, said he's concentrating on business these days, not politics.
"This is a very good day for our company and for our client L'Oreal," he said. "It's a good development for the environment and for business. That's what we're focused on."
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