Lt. Gov. Bill Halter invented the Arkansas lottery. The new lieutenant governor, Mark Darr, didn't invent electricity, but he longs to see it generated by SWEPCO's coal-burning Turk power plant in Hempstead County.
Anyway, following is Darr's op-ed on the wonderfulness of the SWEPCO power plant, which may yet meet an unkind court fate.
(Louie and Mark Darr: A match made in, if not heaven, McNab.)
By Mark Darr
As I mentioned in my last column, we are working toward a more open government to allow you to see where your state tax dollars are going. The Arkansas Financial Transparency Act, which would create such an online checkbook, is going before the Arkansas House of Representatives this week. We are confident that it will pass and soon become law. This is a great step.
In addition to transparency, another focus of mine is job creation. I want Arkansas not only to be a place where businesses create jobs, but also a place that welcomes and encourages those businesses to stay and grow. On February 18, I had the opportunity to visit the John W. Turk, Jr. Power Plant near Fulton, Arkansas. This is a project of Southwestern Electric Power Company (SWEPCO), a division of American Electric Power, and the Arkansas Electric Cooperatives Corporation.
The plant is currently under construction. It is a $1.7 billion project, which means this is a substantial investment in Arkansas. Once complete, the plant will employ 110 people. In addition, the actual construction operation is massive. The plant’s construction site currently employs 1,600 workers and will ramp up to hire 1,900 workers before it is complete. Their current payroll is $8 million a month, which translates to an average of $60,000 per year per job.
In addition to filling needed positions in our economy, these workers are earning income and spending it in our local economy, supporting restaurants, hotels, service stations, and so on. This is an example of how large businesses are important to small businesses in our state. It’s all interconnected.
There are some who are opposed to the construction of this plant, citing environmental concerns. The Turk plant will use coal as fuel to generate electricity. What you may not know is that once this plant is operational, it will be the first-of-its-kind in the United States and also will be one of the cleanest coal-burning plants in the world. It truly is a marvel of 21st-Century engineering.
While the technology for capturing all carbon emissions has not yet reached economic feasibility, the company is already making plans at the site to incorporate a carbon capture facility once it becomes practical. The company estimates that this technology could be viable by 2015.
Another benefit of this plant will be its power generation capacity. This facility will have the ability to serve large industrial customers, which will help make the region more attractive to companies looking to create good jobs.
While natural gas is a vital energy source, it is more expensive than coal. We must take advantage of all available sources of energy. The Turk Plant will be a fixture of Southwest Arkansas for decades to come. The company said that when they designed it, they were planning a facility that would last 40 to 50 years into the future.
In addition to its economic benefits, the Turk Plant is contributing to education. In order to develop a future workforce, SWEPCO set aside $1 million to create a scholarship fund for students at nearby community colleges who are pursuing degrees in power plant technology. The University of Arkansas Community College in Hope, Arkansas has 133 students currently enrolled in this program. Several students will be graduating this program soon and applying for jobs at the new plant. This is a key example of how education and economic development should work together.
The simple fact is that we need energy. America needs it. With demand for energy going up as well as prices escalating, we need all the capacity we can generate at the lowest cost possible. This plant, with its state-of-the-art technology, will be a jewel of the industry. During my visit to the plant, one of the foremen took a microphone to address the workers. He told them they were building something to be proud of, just as their forefathers had built great American projects and that this was something they could tell their grandchildren about. I was impressed with the pride that these workers took in what they were doing. All Arkansans should be proud that such a facility is located here.