Arkansas Boldly Looks To The Past

While the state of Arkansas likes to promote itself as a forward looking part of the US that welcomes high-tech and green industry it recently took a giant step into the past with regard to energy policy. Despite public outcry, on November 5, Arkansas environmental regulators issued an air permit to allow a unit of American Electric Power to begin construction of the 600 megawatt John W. Turk Jr. coal-fired plant. The air permit from the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality was the final regulatory approval needed by AEP's Southwestern Electric Power Co (SWEPCO) to begin construction of the $1.5 billion coal-fired plant in Fulton, Arkansas.

Building will begin immediately on the plant, now expected to be operational in late 2012, SWEPCO said in a release. Site work began earlier this year while the company worked to gain approval to recover plant costs from utility regulators in Arkansas, Louisiana and Texas. For a while it appeared that Texas would save Arkansas from its own folly by rejecting the plant but, in the end, the Public Utility Commission of Texas approved the southwest Arkansas installation. Because a number of SWEPCO's customers live in Louisiana and Texas the company needed the approval of those states' regulatory commissions as well as Arkansas. SWEPCO had said it would build the plant with or without approval from Texas regulators, though a denial would have meant that Texas customers' rates could not be raised to help pay for the facility.

Turk plant will be one of the first U.S. coal plants to use ultra-supercritical technology, which operates at higher temperatures to improve efficiency and reduce emissions. Supposedly the plant design leaves room for the installation of future “clean coal” technology, if such technology ever appears. Even so, opponents voiced concerns over mercury and CO2 emissions from the pulverized coal plant at the last hearing in Arkansas. Based on emissions at two of its three coal-fired power plants, Arkansas is already among the nation’s dirtiest states when it comes to mercury pollution. Frederick W. Addison III of Dallas, lead attorney for the opposition groups, urged the commissioners to just reject pulverized coal as a future power generator, just as other states are doing. “The day of pulverized coal must end,” he said.

Far from being “clean,” this plant will spew five million tons of global warming pollution into the atmosphere every year, increasing Arkansas' greenhouse gas emissions by 8 percent. This is equivalent to the annual emissions from half of the cars and light trucks in Arkansas. This is especially ironic when the Arkansas legislature earlier this year voted overwhelmingly to establish the Governor's Commission on Global Warming with the goal of establishing, by the time of the 2009 legislative session, a greenhouse gas (GHG) target and emissions reduction plan.

Arkansas is a notably conservative state that, according to a poll by the Arkansas News Bureau, split evenly on the question of the immediate dangers of global warming. Forty-four percent said global warming was an urgent problem requiring immediate attention, 44 percent said it was a longer-term problem requiring more study and 5 percent said it was not a problem. Twenty-seven percent said the state should be on the leading edge in creating policies on global warming, 47 percent said the state should adopt policies that have been shown to be effective and sensible in other states, and 16 percent said the state should resist the temptation to join the global warming bandwagon.

If Arkansas was truly looking to the future the utility commission could insist on building wind turbines or expanding the Arkansas Nuclear One (ANO) plant, outside of Russelville. Setting right on the edge of the Midwest wind corridor, it's estimated that there are some 1,000 megawatts of usable wind energy in Arkansas—almost twice the Turk plant's stated output. Such an installation would certainly give the state a green tint. Perhaps more practically, expanding the ANO site would be an even better way to go.

Arkansas Nuclear One actually contains two nuclear reactors: the first was commissioned in 1974, the second in 1980. Both have had there licenses to operated extended so both reactors will be generating power beyond 2030. Both pressurized water reactors were constructed by Bechtel and are operated by Entergy. The plant was designated an Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) Star of Excellence work site under the umbrella of the agency's Voluntary Protection Program (VPP) in Region VI (Arkansas, Louisiana, New Mexico, Oklahoma, and Texas), OSHA's top grade for safety and effectiveness. Together the two reactors produce 1,800 MWe of clean electrical power—three times the output of the Turk plant. By the way, the total cost to build both of the ANO reactors was about $901,500,000.

So why is Arkansas allowing a new coal plant to be built within its borders? For the sake of a few jobs in a relatively depressed portion of the state. Isn't it time for Arkansas to look to the future by building eco-friendly electric plants based on wind, solar and nuclear power? Isn't Arkansas tired of being the dumping site for coal plants that voters in other states have refused? If you are an Arkansan call or write your state representative and Governor Beebe today.

Arkansas Appeals Court Blocks Turk Plant

An Arkansas appeals court last week overturned on technical grounds a key decision by the state regulators that authorized construction of Southwestern Electric Power Co.’s (SWEPCO’s) John W. Turk Jr. coal-fired power plant. The Arkansas Court of Appeals on June 24 overturned the Arkansas Public Service Commission’s (APSC’s) November 2007 decision to grant a Certificate of Environmental Compatibility and Public Need (CECPN) to the $1.6 billion project. It ruled on the grounds that APSC had “erred by failing to resolve all matters in a single proceeding as required by Arkansas Code Annotated section 23018-502,” a clause related to the state’s Utility Facility Environmental and Economic Protection Act. SWEPCO has filed an appeal with the Arkansas Supreme Court and said it would continue the plant’s construction because delays could prove costly.