In a pair of developments underscoring the evolution of America's electric energy generation sources, the parent company of Southwestern Electric Power Co. this week announced a significant turn away from coal, and Entergy Corp. pulled out of a leading nuclear energy trade group.
American Electric Power, one of the largest power utilities in the nation with more than 5 million customers, set a goal of cutting carbon dioxide emissions from year 2000 levels by 80 percent by 2050. Swepco of Fayetteville is a subsidiary of the utility, which plans to achieve the carbon reductions by boosting its renewable-energy sources, helping customers conserve energy and replacing aging coal generation plants with facilities using cheaper, cleaner natural gas.
Entergy Corp. of New Orleans, the parent of Arkansas' largest investor-owned utility, Entergy Arkansas, confirmed last month that it has pulled out of the Nuclear Energy Institute. NextEra Energy of Florida, which has partnered with Entergy Arkansas on two utility-scale solar power generation projects in Arkansas, also left the nuclear group.
Entergy operates 10 nuclear reactors, including Nuclear One near Russellville, and like other electric companies has embraced natural gas and renewable sources increasingly over the past decade.
AEP President and CEO Nicholas Akins said his company was responding to consumer desires for cleaner generation.
"Our customers want us to partner with them to provide cleaner energy and new technologies, while continuing to provide reliable, affordable energy," he said in a statement this week from AEP's headquarters in Columbus, Ohio. "We believe in an 'all of the above' strategy, which includes investments in energy efficiency, renewables, natural gas, nuclear, hydroelectric and pumped storage and coal."
He added that coal would be a smaller proportion of the mix, but "it remains important to the reliability and resiliency of the grid."
Environmentalist say AEP is hardly the first utility to de-emphasize coal, but the move is seen as important because the company has long relied on coal as a major fuel.
"Seeing a large, coal-heavy utility make plans for thousands of megawatts of clean energy is certainly encouraging," said Glen Hooks, director of the Arkansas Sierra Club. "All across the country, and right here in Arkansas, the clean energy revolution is happening. This can only mean good things for our state and nation — in terms of cleaner air, good paying jobs, and improved public health."
The two withdrawals from the nuclear trade group, which advocates grants and tax breaks for nuclear plants, were hailed by opponents as signs of trouble in the nuclear power sector, as well as an acknowledgement of growing doubts about nuclear fuel as it stacks up against natural gas, solar and wind generation, which have been growing steadily cheaper.
Last week, NextEra opened a lawsuit against the trade group after NEI blocked access to a nuclear industry personnel database, demanding a payment of $900,000.
An Entergy spokesman, Michael Bowling, told Southwest Energy News last month that Entergy will remain engaged in nuclear power.
"We strongly believe that nuclear power remains an important part of our company's and country's diverse resource mix, and we will continue to work to deliver power to our customers in a safe, reliable and affordable manner," he said.