ARKANSAS (KNWA/KFTA) — The Northwest Arkansas Regional Planning Commission is partnering with Fort Smith and Metroplan based in Little Rock to create a priority action plan that will reduce greenhouse emissions, create jobs, and encourage economic growth in the state.

The goal is to get money from a $4.6 billion Federal Climate Pollution Reduction grant from the Environmental Protection Agency.

According to Joshua Robertson, deputy director of business administration, the groups were already awarded $3 million through the state to do research and get stakeholder feedback. 

“If we get funds to do different projects for climate emissions reductions and also to advance in more green energy, we’re going to need to create jobs to support this, which is great for our state,” Robertson said.

Tim Conklin, executive director of the NWA Regional Planning Commission, says they are asking entities such as cities, counties, universities, and state agencies if they have any projects that will help meet the grant requirements.

“Basically, projects that reduce energy consumption, projects that protect sensitive areas, natural areas, planting trees,” Conklin said. 

Conklin says an example of what can go in the priority action plan are solar arrays.

According to Eric Boles, director of the Office for Sustainability at the University of Arkansas, it has a large solar energy project that’s underway. 

“It’ll be the largest in the state of Arkansas by far, and it’s going to save the University of Arkansas a minimum of $149 million over the 25-year term with no upfront cost,” said Boles.

NWA Regional Planning Commission, Fort Smith, and Metroplan also want to hear from the public across the area. 

“We don’t want to go forth with a plan or a project that is not a high priority within our citizen base and within our community,” Robertson said. 

After receiving the input, the groups creating this plan will come together and submit five priority action items to the Arkansas Energy and Environment Division by Dec. 1. 

“Those will roll up into a statewide energy and environment innovation plan for the state of Arkansas,” Conklin said.

Then, they will finalize their priority plan and submit it to the EPA by March 1.

Robertson hopes the grant will lead to different and good jobs in the city and help low-income families. 

These leaders have the future in mind as they work towards this funding.

“We want to protect these natural resources and these types of projects, help protect our natural resources and to make sure that for future generations, what we love about Northwest Arkansas is preserved and enhanced in the future,” Conklin said.

The NWA Regional Planning Commission is taking public input for the Energy & Environment Innovation Plan online and in person. The committee will meet on Thursday, Oct. 26, from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. at the Jones Center Room 226.

There is also a survey and the idea box for the community to share your priorities for sustainability solutions in Arkansas.

The planning process for the Energy & Environment Innovation Plan will have three phases.

  1. Priority Action Plan draft of regional plan anticipated in December 2023
  2. Comprehensive Action Plan draft of regional plan anticipated in early 2025
  3. Status Updates on Action Plan Progress beginning in 2027

This planning process will enable state and local government agencies to compete for federal funding for energy infrastructure and investments in technology.

More information on the project materials can be found online.