NORTH LITTLE ROCK — Cosmetics maker L’Oreal USA on Thursday celebrated completion of the third largest commercial solar power project in Arkansas.
The company held a ribbon-cutting ceremony for a 3,528-panel solar array on eight acres adjacent to its North Little Rock factory, which makes products for the company’s brands including Maybelline, L’Oreal Paris, Essie and Lancome.
The 1.2 megawatt array will provide about 10 percent of the factory’s power, with the rest coming from North Little Rock’s Murray Hydroelectric Power Plant in North Little Rock. It is expected to reduce carbon emissions by 556 metric tons per year, according to the company.
“This site, along with other sustainability initiatives across L’Oreal USA, has resulted in an 84 percent reduction in our CO2 emissions compared to our 2005 baseline,” said Eric Fox, plant manager for the North Little Rock facility. “That’s above our initial target of a 60 percent reduction, and we’ve done it four years ahead of target.”
Fox said the company spent “several million dollars” on the project. Arkansas does not currently offer incentives for solar projects, he said, but he added, “we’re hoping this is going to facilitate a change.”
The company chose a highly visible location beside Interstate 40 for the array in order to draw attention to the possibilities of solar power, Fox said.
“It’s essentially an eight-acre billboard for solar energy,” he said.
Bill Halter, former lieutenant governor of Arkansas and current CEO of Scenic Hill Solar, the lead contractor for the project, praised L’Oreal for its global strategy for increasing sustainability, named Sharing Beauty for All.
“It’s not just talking the talk. They walk the walk,” he said.
North Little Rock Mayor Joe Smith said that when he first heard of the project his first thought was that it would mean a reduction in the city’s sales of hydroelectric power by $2 million to $3 million a year, but he has since come to understand that the project is good for the city.
“With this project, even though our sales are going to go down, (it will create) the ability for L’Oreal to grow and bring in high-paying executive jobs and to make North Little Rock and central Arkansas a little bit better special place,” he said.
When asked by a reporter when that growth might happen or how many new jobs might be created, Fox declined to make any specific predictions.
“L’Oreal USA’s solar projects are part of a companywide sustainability initiative that allows us to reduce our carbon footprint and also lock in low electricity rates over time. This strategy can give us the ability to reinvest in places like central Arkansas, where we’ve been a proud employer for more than 20 years,” he said.
The plant currently employs nearly 500 people.
Glen Hooks, director of the Arkansas chapter of the Sierra Club, said in a statement Thursday, “Today’s news underscores what we’ve been saying for years: there’s no need to choose between a healthy environment and a healthy economy. We can have both.”
L’Oreal USA is a subsidiary of the French company L’Oreal. In L’Oreal’s 2016 Progress Report, released Thursday, Chairman and CEO Jean-Paul Agon said the company is committed to doing what it can to combat climate change.
“While climate change is a major challenge, and we are already seeing its effects on the most vulnerable populations, our commitment is stronger than ever,” he said.