EPA's Clean Power Plan Fuels Carbon Debate

by Marty Cook  on Monday, Jul. 7, 2014 12:00 am  

Duane Highley, CEO of Arkansas Electric Cooperative Corp. and Arkansas Electric Cooperatives Inc., said the proposed EPA regulations are too punitive against the coal industry and will have harmful effects on the cost and reliability of electricity in Arkansas.

What’s more, Highley said, the proposal wouldn’t have much of the desired effect on global emissions anyway.

“The energy that comes out is so inexpensive; that’s why they’re cost effective,” Highley said of coal-fired power plants. “At least we can run them to the end of their useful lives. This [is a] premature shutdown, save the globe 1 percent of carbon dioxide emissions that’s not going to make any difference in temperature or weather or anything else. It’s mostly window dressing, political to say we’re doing something.”

Hooks said he understands why the power companies want to keep their old coal-fired power plants operating: They’re already paid for. Southwestern Electric Power Co.’s 600-megawatt John W. Turk Jr. Power Plant near Fulton went online in December 2012 at a cost of $1.8 billion, while White Bluff has been in operation since 1980.

“You have utilities that are used to making lots and lots of money on the old model, and they haven’t quite figured out the way to do it in a cleaner way,” Hooks said. “When you have an older coal-fired power plant, it is completely paid for so it’s basically just printing money at this point. They have a real significant financial incentive to keep those old, dirty power plants chugging along.”

A Swepco official said the Turk power plant already meets EPA standards, but one in Texas would require about $400 million in upgrades. The Flint Creek Power Plant in Gentry (Benton County), which is co-owned by Swepco and the Arkansas Electric Cooperative Corp., is undergoing $408 million in upgrades to meet the EPA’s guidelines previously enacted for other pollutants such as sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxide and mercury.

Highley said shutting down coal-fired plants and relying more on natural gas to produce energy will end up costing consumers in the state. Highley said one of the reasons Arkansas has the heavy burden of a 44 percent reduction is because it has underused natural gas plants in the state, but the state would need to dramatically upgrade the natural gas infrastructure of pipelines and storage units to handle the increased workloads.

That all will cost money, lots of it, Highley said. He said natural gas is already twice as expensive as coal and as demand for it increases under the EPA’s new plan, the price will only go up.

Highley said even if natural gas prices stayed stable, he predicted a 20-40 percent rate increase in energy bills.

“If they were getting something for that money, it might be worth it,” Highley said. “It’s not really a getting-a-bang-for-your-buck thing. If what you’re trying to do is reduce global carbon dioxide emissions, whether you believe in that or not, it’s not going to achieve that policy objective.”

In its proposal, the EPA estimated an annual saving of $55 billion to $93 billion in health and environmental benefits by 2030. Hooks said the idea that cleaner standards would result in higher bills is fear mongering by energy companies.

“Every single time the EPA releases a rule that improves our environment or our public health, you hear howls of protest from the polluters,” Hooks said. “That’s because they’re making a lot of money damaging our environment and our public health. They always say the sky is going to fall, and it never does. They always say it is going to be devastating for the economy, and it never is.”



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