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Arkansas at Energy Crossroads with Flint Creek Coal Plant

PHOTO: The Flint Creek Power Plant is at the heart of a controversy: Update it to meet more stringent air pollution standards, or retire it and focus on other forms of energy in Arkansas? Photo courtesy of SWEPCO.
PHOTO: The Flint Creek Power Plant is at the heart of a controversy: Update it to meet more stringent air pollution standards, or retire it and focus on other forms of energy in Arkansas? Photo courtesy of SWEPCO.
March 21, 2013

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. - The Arkansas Public Service Commission (PSC) has a big decision to make about the future of the Flint Creek Power Plant and the power bills of those who might have to pay for upgrading SWEPCO's 35-year-old coal plant in northwest Arkansas. The facility will not be in compliance with new federal air pollution laws unless almost $500 million is spent on a retrofit. The PSC has to decide if it is okay for SWEPCO ratepayers to foot the bill.

Glen Hooks, senior campaign representative of the Sierra Club "Beyond Coal" campaign, said now is the time to kick other types of energy development into high gear in Arkansas.

"It makes no economic sense to continue pouring hundreds of millions of dollars every couple years into keeping this coal plant alive when we could, for a fraction of the cost, explore some alternatives that are cheaper, and also better for human health and the environment," he said.

SWEPCO has said the only way to ensure a reliable power source in the Fayetteville area is to keep the plant online. But Hooks pointed out that Flint Creek could be allowed to remain in minimal operation while SWEPCO pursues other, cleaner power sources.

Terry Tremwel, adjunct professor of business at the University of Arkansas (Fayetteville), questioned the idea of shipping coal for the plant from Wyoming and Montana when local natural gas fields and geothermal potential exist, as well as other energy sources closer to home.

"We're the eleventh best place to put a solar power plant, on a state-by-state basis," Tremwel said. "We're right next to the wind corridor in Texas, Oklahoma and Kansas, so we have a huge resource very close by. We don't need more coal."

SWEPCO said shutting down the coal plant would cost some people their jobs. Tremwel said he sees more job potential from newer energy technology, with the side benefit of fewer health risks. He noted that Arkansas has not pushed energy efficiency very much, and said that is also a source of jobs.

The PSC hearing will be held on Thursday, Mar. 28, at 9:30 a.m., at 1000 Center St., Little Rock. Comments also may be made online at www.arkansas.gov/psc/.

Chris Thomas, Public News Service - AR