Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge cast doubt Thursday on a pending legal settlement that would guarantee the shutdown of Entergy Arkansas' two coal-fired electricity generation plants over the next dozen years.
Rutledge is calling for the state's Public Service Commission to examine the deal, which settled a lawsuit against Entergy by the Sierra Club and the National Parks Conservation Association. She says the deal wasn't properly vetted and may not be in the interest of Arkansas ratepayers.
The two plants, White Bluff in Redfield and Independence just outside Newark, are co-owned by the Arkansas Electric Cooperative Corp. and several municipal utilities. Together, the ownership utilities serve some 1.2 million Arkansas customers.
Rutledge has applied to U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Arkansas, which is overseeing the case, to intervene on behalf of state ratepayers.
"The terms of the settlement between Entergy and the Sierra Club will directly impact Arkansans' utility bills," Rutledge said in a public statement. "This settlement has not been properly vetted by the Public Service Commission, my office or other agencies that have the public’s interest at heart."
The case, Sierra Club v. Entergy, would be dismissed under terms of the settlement, which commits Entergy to stop burning coal at Redfield by the end of 2028 and at Newark by Dec. 31, 2030.
Representatives of both the environmental groups and Entergy Arkansas Inc. have praised the deal, and Entergy has been cutting its reliance on coal-generated power for many years, favoring natural-gas generation and growing renewable sources.
In a statement late Thursday, Entergy Arkansas said the settlement "is in the best economic interest of our customers, our employees, our community and the company" and that it would allow the company to replace older facilities with "newer, highly efficient generation resources" in a more cost-effective manner.
"The State Implementation Plan, which was approved by the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality with the support of the Governor, had already included the same cease-to-burn coal date at White Bluff of 2028, consistent with the settlement," Entergy said. "We do not believe it would be a wise investment or in the best interest of our customers to sink $2 billion into almost 50-year-old plants.
"Customers are best served with an orderly transition and investment in new, more cost-efficient technology. Any costs related to new investments to replace the generation of these plants is required to be reviewed by the Arkansas Public Service Commission at the time it is proposed."
Glen Hooks of the Sierra Club also took issue with Rutledge's actions, calling them "another misguided attempt to thwart clean air protections for Arkansans." In a statement, he said the deal "responsibly transitions two of the largest and dirtiest unscrubbed power plants in the nation to retirement, while also committing to hundreds of megawatts of clean energy for our state. This settlement will mean cleaner air and more clean energy jobs right here in Arkansas."
He noted that the PSC was already reviewing the plan as part of Entergy's 2018 Integrated Resource Planning process. "The shutdown dates contained in our settlement and the IRP submitted to the PSC are exactly the same," Hooks said. "Entergy’s modeling demonstrates that those coal shutdown dates are the least-cost option for Arkansas consumers."
But Rutledge sees "potential negative impacts on Arkansas citizens and businesses," a news release from her office said. "I am seeking an investigation by Entergy's state regulator, the PSC, and intervention and intervention in federal court to ensure that the state’s interest and those of its citizens and businesses are adequately protected,” her statement said.
A decision on her intervention request is expected to come within days or weeks.