U.S. Judge Clears Entergy Plan to Shutter Coal Plants in Redfield, Newark

U.S. Judge Clears Entergy Plan to Shutter Coal Plants in Redfield, Newark
Entergy's White Bluff coal plant in Redfield (File photo)

A federal judge in Little Rock on Thursday cleared the way for Entergy Arkansas, the state’s largest electric utility, to close coal-fired power plants in Jefferson and Independence counties under a schedule worked out in a settlement with environmental groups.

Entergy will close the 1980-era White Bluff and Independence plants, in Redfield and Newark, respectively, by 2030. The closings, as well as plans to close a natural-gas fired plant on Lake Catherine, were part of a settlement Entergy embraced to resolve a Clean Air Act lawsuit by the Sierra Club and the National Parks Conservation Association.

U.S. District Judge Kristine Baker finalized the settlement with her formal approval Thursday, and the plaintiffs said the action concluded years of litigation over air emissions between the utility and the environmentalists.

It also thwarted the efforts of Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge, a candidate for governor, who intervened in the legal proceeding in December 2018. 

“With today’s action by the federal court, closure of the two coal plants can proceed with certainty, which will save Arkansas electric ratepayers $2 billion through the avoided investment of commonly-used pollution controls that would have been required to continue operating the plants” under Clean Air regulations, the Sierra Club said in a news release. “The original settlement resolves several claims by environmental groups alleging Entergy illegally modified the White Bluff and Independence coal plants without permits and increased emissions, in violation of the Clean Air Act.”

The environmental groups added that the deal will improve air quality in national parks, wilderness areas, and wildlife refuges across Arkansas and the region. “These plants rank sixth (White Bluff) and 12th (Independence) in harmful sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide emissions out of the hundreds of power plants across the United States,” the release said.

The settlement “turbocharges” the growth of renewable energy generation in Arkansas, with Entergy agreeing to bring 800 megawatts of affordable renewable energy to the Arkansas Public Service Commission for approval no later than 2027, a process that is already underway. Settlement documents are available online here and here.

“The settlement finalized today shows that our agreement to close massive polluting power plants is a win, win, win for Arkansans,” Sierra Club Arkansas Chapter Director Glen Hooks said in a statement. “The agreement will save utility customers up to $2 billion, reduce and eventually eliminate air pollution from two of the dirtiest coal plants in the country, and boost our economy with new renewable energy investments.”

Hooks called the Independence and White Bluff generators “two of the largest unscrubbed coal plants in the nation.” He urged Entergy Arkansas CEO Laura Landreaux to close the plants quicker, to spare suffering by Arkansans with asthma and breathing ailments.

Stephanie Kodish, Clean Air and climate programs director and counsel for the National Parks Conservation Association, said the judge’s decision will mitigate the pollution of “public lands like the Buffalo National River and Caney Creek Wilderness” and aid the fight against climate change. “Now is the time to transition to clean energy in a just and equitable manner to combat the climate crisis and provide a safer future for people and our parks.”

Kurt Castleberry, director of resource planning and market operations for Entergy Arkansas, called the final ruling "an affirmation of our plans for the future." The utility, he said, will "move forward with implementing measures to comply with the Arkansas State Implementation Plan that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency approved in 2018.” 

That plan was created to replace older, less-efficient generating plants with newer, more efficient generation resources, Castleberry said. "Entergy Arkansas’ priority is to do that in a way that is economically beneficial to the company’s stakeholders, while continuing to provide safe, clean and reliable electricity."

The investor-owned utility said the settlement deal "is consistent with Entergy Arkansas’ plan to cease using coal to generate electricity at its White Bluff power plant by the end of 2028 and Independence power plant by the end of 2030." It also allows for Lake Catherine 4 natural gas generator to retire by the end of 2027.

Castleberry called Entergy Arkansas’ plan "a key step in Entergy Corporation’s ongoing strategy to transform the company’s generation portfolio to better meet customers’ needs today and in the future with cleaner, highly efficient resources of electricity." Renewable energy options under the deal may include solar, geothermal, run-of-the-river hydroelectric and wind power," he said.

Entergy operates one of the cleanest large-scale generating fleets in the country, the company said, "and we recently announced we are taking another significant step toward a lower carbon future with a commitment to achieve net-zero carbon emissions by 2050." 

Attorneys George Hays of Bellevue, Washington, and Naomi Melver of Seattle represented Sierra Club in the case; Earthjustice, a San Francisco-based nonprofit, represented the NPCA. 

Randy Eminger of Bella Vista, director of the pro-coal Energy Policy Network, which promotes the Wyoming coal burned in the two plants, said that “sue-and-settle” litigation shouldn’t determine states’ energy policy, which he said would be the effect of the judge’s ruling.

He noted that Sierra Club and the NPCA first sued in 2015 over regional haze standards under the Obama administration. However, he said, a turnabout under the Trump administration led the Environmental Protection Agency to accept a relaxed plan to address regional haze proposed by the state of Arkansas. 

The environmentalists sued again, holding that efficiency upgrades implemented at the Independence and White Bluff plants in 2009 triggered a “new source review” under federal environmental rules.

“Within 48 hours, Entergy had a stipulation agreement to shut down White Bluff in 2028 and Independence in 2030,” Eminger said. “These are the sort of things we have a Public Service Commission to address. “It’s a sad day when a federal judge is deciding the energy mix of the state of Arkansas, and I fear that the sue-and-settle trend of setting policy will continue.”

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