Power-Hungry Steel Plant Is Ordering Green

Power-Hungry Steel Plant Is Ordering Green
A pseudo-rendering of U.S. Steel's new $3 billion mill in Osceola that is expected to rely in part on renewable energy. (U.S. Steel)

When Big River Steel looked to build a major steel plant in Osceola nearly a decade ago, one key requirement was electric power, and lots of it.

Manufacturing at the world’s first “flex mill,” combining elements of integrated steel plants and mini-mills, required a giant  load of electricity, 450 megawatts.

For comparison, that’s enough to power 75,000 U.S. homes. Entergy Arkansas, a subsidiary of Entergy Corp. of New Orleans, was ready with a deal.

The utility, which serves about 730,000 Arkansas homes and enterprises, is the largest electric player in a state that consistently ranks among the top six or seven states for power affordability.

Big River took its name after finding a 1,300-acre spot between the Mississippi and Interstate 55 in Osceola. Other neighbors are an Entergy 500-kilovolt transmission line and tracks of the BNSF Railway.

Entergy had 120 employees working different components of the steel mill project, and it negotiated an electricity-pricing deal for Big River that had a fixed rate component. The special rate, ratified by the Arkansas Public Service Commission, “was beneficial to the company and to all other Entergy Arkansas customers,” the company said at the time.

Mississippi County’s steel plants are the largest electricity users in the state, and now U.S. Steel is set to demand another huge load for the plant it’s building next to Big River. This time, there’s a specific call for renewable energy.

Kurt Castleberry, Entergy Arkansas’ director of resource planning, called the steel plant plan “tremendous, something we were very glad to help get” for Arkansas. “Renewables were very important, because like a lot of companies, U.S. Steel places great importance on sustainability,” Castleberry said. “Their ultimate goal in northeast Arkansas is to produce steel using renewable energy.”

Renewable hydropower provides 16% of Entergy Arkansas’ generation mix, about 880 megawatts of its 5,500 megawatts of installed generation capacity. But solar power delivers just 281 megawatts. Three more solar plants are in motion, but hampered by supply-chain shortages.  

Last month the utility requested proposals for 1,000 megawatts of new solar and wind generation. The sun plants would  be in Entergy’s footprint; wind projects in the territory of Southwest Power Pool or the Midcontinent Independent System Operator, regional transmission organizations with offices in Little Rock.

The RFP would nearly quadruple the utility’s solar capacity, and it requires a bulk of the renewable power to be available by 2024. That’s the year the new U.S. Steel plant hopes to start production.