Policy: Environment & Energy

Electric grid company breaks ground in Little Rock

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News,Business,Energy and Environment,Electricity

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — A company that manages part of the nation's electric grid marked the start of construction Friday on a regional center in Little Rock that will employ 50 people earning an average of $85,000 per year.

Midcontinent Independent System Operator CEO John R. Bear said the organization picked Little Rock for the $22 million center because of the supply of engineering talent and the focus by local colleges on what the industry needs.

"It was really quite an easy choice," Bear said.

Regional grid managers buy wholesale electricity for member utilities and are intended to secure the lowest prices available and sustain a reliable supply.

The company, known as MISO, is headquartered in Carmel, Ind., but needs a center in the South to accommodate its pickup of New Orleans-based Entergy Corp. lines in Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas. Entergy signed with MISO after it dissolved its prior system agreement.

The building in west Little Rock is expected to be finished at the end of 2014, and employees are to move in during the spring of 2015.

MISO's regional hub will be near a similar operation. Southwest Power Pool opened a $62 million headquarters for its 500 employees in 2012 when it consolidated its offices that were spread across Little Rock. Both are nonprofit organizations that manage the flow of electricity among various utility companies.

Little Rock Mayor Mark Stodola noted that the city has about 70,000 students in the community's colleges and universities.

"It's about the people; it's about the talent," Stodola said.

Bear said the center will be critical as a management center during hurricanes and other natural disasters that disrupt electric grids.

MISO manages the parts of the grid in 15 states in the Midwest and South, and in the Canadian province of Manitoba.

The company is to benefit from state incentives that include a cash rebate of 3.9 percent of payroll for new jobs for four years and a sales tax refund on building materials, taxable machinery and equipment.

MISO is to hire electrical engineers, government affairs specialists to work with regulators and others to work in information technology and customer relations with utilities.

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