A filing today in federal court seeks a tenporary restraining order for SWEPCO to stop construction on the coal-fired power plant it has been building in Hempstead County. Courts have overturned PSC approval and challenges of air and water permits pend, but the utility apparently hopes by investing enough money it will eventually force courts to accept the fait accompli.
The hunting club whose prime property would be besmirched by the operation presses on. A release from its lawyer, Chuck Nestrud, follows:
LITTLE ROCK, AR — The Hempstead County Hunting Club is asking a federal court to order Southwestern Electric Power Co. to stop illegal construction of its John W. Turk Jr. Electric Generating Plant in Hempstead County. The club, in a filing today in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Arkansas in Texarkana, is asking the court to issue a Temporary Restraining Order that would halt construction until a proper regulatory hearing is conducted.
The Arkansas Court of Appeals and the Arkansas Supreme Court unanimously ruled that SWEPCO’s construction permit was invalid and the PSC has now revoked it. Nevertheless, SWEPCO now says it will ignore the court orders, and avoid regulatory scrutiny, by changing its customers to out of state wholesalers.
“A proper regulatory review has never taken place, which has been the game plan of SWEPCO for over five years” said Chuck Nestrud, attorney for the club. In December 2006, SWEPCO President Venita McCellon-Allen noted in testimony before the Arkansas Public Service Commission that the utility avoided building the plant in Texas to sidestep regulatory scrutiny. Hempstead County was selected because company officials believed Arkansas would provide lapse regulatory oversight.
SWEPCO had considered siting the plant in Pirkey, Texas, but decided to build instead in Hempstead County because “the environmental and permitting risks at the Hempstead site were deemed to be less risky that at the Pirkey site,” McCellon-Allen told the Arkansas commission.
Also in the December 2006 filing, another SWEPCO official, Mark W. Marano, clearly noted Hempstead County was selected so that the utility could avoid “permitting or operational risks” in Texas. The testimony indicated SWEPCO was concerned Texas regulators would give more scrutiny to environmental and operational issues than would regulators in Arkansas.
“Unfortunately, SWEPCO’s assessment of the regulatory scrutiny this plant would receive in Arkansas was accurate,” Nestrud said. “The Arkansas PSC failed, as noted by unanimous decisions from both of Arkansas appellate courts.” While those appeals were pending for nearly two years, SWEPCO assured other state and federal regulators that the plant had been thoroughly vetted and approved by the Arkansas PSC. Other regulators rubber stamped the Turk Plant, because the Arkansas PSC said it was good to go. It’s too late for SWEPCO to change the review process. It is way past time to put a stop to this charade.
“SWEPCO has thumbed its nose at the Arkansas courts,” Nestrud said. The appellate courts identified preferable alternatives to a coal plant, alternatives the PSC would be evaluating—but for SWEPCO’s new plan. In its ruling approving the Turk Plant, the PSC noted there were “no winners” between a gas or coal plant. Alternatives should be given a thorough and probing review,” Nestrud added. SWEPCO’s President, Ms. McCellon-Allen assured regulators in Texas that the Arkansas PSC would have the last word when she testified, under oath: “But for clarification for everyone, I wanted to be sure that everyone understood. So if we’re denied [a CECPN] in Arkansas, you are correct, we will not build the plant.” SWEPCO’s President was right—it cannot construct without a PSC certificate.
Nestrud noted that the hunting club is simply asking SWEPCO to honor its commitments to the public and to regulators. “The Turk Plant has not gained proper regulatory approval and continuing construction is contrary to SWEPCO’s binding representations regarding the purpose and legal bases for the plant,” Nestrud added. “The utility now is trying to avoid the regulatory process it committed to in the beginning. This should be stopped immediately.
“We’re asking the court for justice — make the utility live up to its commitments to ratepayers and regulators. It’s simply the right thing to do. This project needs to be fully and completely reviewed, and SWEPCO’s latest maneuver must be rejected.”