by Max Brantley
The Sierra Club and Audubon Arkansas have announced a settlement with SWEPCO, the utility building the Turk coal-fired power plant in Hempstead County.
This ends legal challenges to the plant and will be reflected in a consent decree to be filed in federal court later today in Texarkana. Nicholas Akins, CEO of American Electric Power, SWEPCO's parent, said in a release: “The provisions of the agreement are consistent with our commitment to renewable energy, energy efficiency and overall environmental stewardship."
It also eliminates the possibility that Arkansas appellate courts, in the past unfriendly to SWEPCO legal arguments, might block the plant despite the huge sum of money already invested.
SWEPCO, the organizations say, has agreed to retire a coal plant in Texas in return for an end to pending challenges to permits for the Turk plant, plus pay $10 million for environmental and clean energy causes and another $2 million for attorney fees. It promises not to build a second unit at the Turk plant. Here's the SWEPCO release, too. The key details, according to Sierra/Audubon news release.:
1. The permanent retirement of the 558 megawatt Welsh (Unit 2) boiler in Pittsburg, TX, as early as 2014 but no later than 2016. Welsh Unit 2 will also reduce its capacity factor to no more than sixty percent (reducing output and emissions about one fifth from recent levels) when Turk plant begins commercial operation.
2. SWEPCO will purchase 400 megawatts of new wind or solar energy resources for its service territory (AR, OK, TX, and LA), with power purchase agreements for at least 20 years.
3. SWEPCO must provide $8 million to The Nature Conservancy for conservation and restoration purposes in Arkansas.
4. SWEPCO must provide $2 million to the Arkansas Community Foundation, to be used to support clean-energy and energy-efficiency policy efforts in AR/OK/TX/LA.
5. SWEPCO agrees to not build additional units at the Turk site, nor build any coal-fired units within 30 miles of Turk.
6. SWEPCO agrees not to site any future Turk transmission lines in the Nacatoches Ravines Natural Area, the Little River and Bois d'Arc Wildlife Management Area, or in a number of other natural areas.
7. SWEPCO agrees to stricter and more frequent testing and monitoring requirements for the Turk plant’s air emissions, wastewater discharges, and landfill.
Air and water permits have remained at issue in courts and regulatory agencies, though SWEPCO had earlier settled a challenge by a hunting club over alleged degradation of the environment to their nearby property. The plant is substantially complete and more than $1 billion has been spent.
The news release from Sierra/Audubon, followed by a list of key settlement agreements from the SWEPCO news release:
Audubon and Sierra Club today announced a legal settlement with Southwestern Electric Power Company (SWEPCO), a subsidiary of American Electric Power (AEP), that phases out Welsh 2, a dirty coal plant upwind of Arkansas in Northeastern Texas, provides hundreds of megawatts of new clean energy for the region, secures $10 million for land conservation and energy-efficiency advocacy, and limits development of additional plants and transmission lines. The settlement brings to an end a four-year high-profile public battle over the construction of the Turk coal-fired power plant in Southwest Arkansas.
“Two words: cleaner air. That’s what this agreement will deliver. It requires the nation’s largest coal burner to retire one of its dirtiest plants and it funds conservation of wetlands and forests for Arkansans. Just as important, it increases SWEPCO’s use of renewable wind and solar energy in a part of the country that trails other regions,” said David Yarnold, Audubon President & CEO.
“While we’d prefer that the Turk plant not be built, today’s settlement brings some very good news for Arkansas, which would not have been possible without years of citizen opposition to dirty coal plants,” said Glen Hooks, with Sierra Club. “By retiring the aging and polluting coal plant in Northeast Texas, we will significantly reduce air pollution coming into Arkansas. Protecting Arkansans from coal pollution is our top priority.”
The settlement, focused on offsetting the new Turk plant's total emissions, requires SWEPCO to install 400 megawatts of clean energy, and further accelerates the region’s transition away from coal. Sierra Club and Audubon will continue to work with AEP in seeking other emissions reductions within the AEP system companies.
“Energy efficiency also puts money in the pockets of struggling families and businesses in Arkansas,” Yarnold said. “This deal includes $2 million to support expansion of energy conservation programs in Arkansas, Oklahoma, Louisiana, and Texas. And once those folks start seeing that money in their pockets, they’ll want to conserve their way to even more savings.”
The agreement prohibits the siting of energy transmission lines in sensitive natural areas, including the Nacatoches Ravines Natural Area and the Little River and Bois d'Arc Wildlife Management Areas, adjacent to the Grassy Lake Audubon Important Bird Area. SWEPCO will also be required to provide $8 million for the conservation of priority landscapes, replacing many times over the amount of habitat affected by the Turk plant. The Nature Conservancy will be the recipient of these funds.
“We look forward to working with our colleagues at The Nature Conservancy to increase healthy habitat for birds, including endangered species like the Red-cockaded Woodpecker, as well as to provide opportunities for people to enjoy visiting Arkansas’s natural areas,” said Ellen Fennell, Vice President & State Executive Director, Audubon Arkansas.
SWEPCO will be required to reduce its use of the Welsh 2 unit in Texas as soon as Turk starts operations, and then retire the coal unit as soon as feasible, with a firm deadline of 2016. Because Welsh 2 lacks pollution controls, taking this plant offline will offset Turk’s emissions of soot, smog, particulates, and toxics several times over. In addition, tightened monitoring of Turk's operations will help protect Arkansas residents from other environmental impacts, including coal waste and effluent. SWEPCO has also agreed not to develop additional coal units at the Turk site or near it, which will protect Arkansans from the threat of additional pollution.
Dawn Farver, Chair of the Arkansas Chapter of the Sierra Club, stated that, "Because of the efforts of our hardworking and dedicated volunteers, we have gained significant resources to invest in renewable energy and improving energy efficiency, as well as commitments to shut down an aging, dirty coal plant that contributes numerous pollutants to the air Arkansans breathe.”
The retirements included in today’s settlement are part of a clear national trend of moving away from dirty coal and toward cleaner sources of energy. Since last year, more than ten percent of the existing coal-burning plants have been scheduled for retirement. Today’s announcement adds another 558 megawatts of old coal to that total and will displace even more coal usage with this major investment in clean energy. Welsh 2 would be one of the largest and comparatively youngest coal units to be retired this decade, creating a precedent for more near-term retirements.
“Safe, clean energy promotes health, prosperity, and freedom from dirty, dangerous coal. With the settlement’s new major clean energy project, Arkansas is joining other states already shifting to clean, healthy, and safe renewable energy,” said Lev Guter with Sierra Club. “We hope that AEP and SWEPCO will prioritize a just transition for all workers during this process.”
Sierra Club and Audubon wish to also recognize the outstanding work and support of outside counsel, without whom this victory would not have been possible. Many thanks to Richard Mays (Mays & White, Heber Springs, AR), Ilan Levin (Environmental Integrity Project) and David Frederick of Austin, TX.
FROM THE SWEPCO NEWS RELEASE
Venita McCellon-Allen, SWEPCO president and chief operating officer, said, “We are proud to be building the Turk Plant not only for the service it will provide our customers and the boost it is already giving to the Arkansas economy, but also because it demonstrates our commitment and ability to meet stringent environmental standards set by federal and state regulatory agencies.”
Highlights of the settlement include:
* All legal challenges to any permits or certificates required to build and operate the Turk Plant will be withdrawn. The preliminary injunction in place in U.S. District Court will be lifted, allowing work to be completed on the plant’s water intake structure and transmission river crossings.
* AEP agrees not to construct any additional generating units at the Turk site. As long as the Turk Plant operates, AEP also will not build any new coal-fueled generating units at any location in Arkansas within 30 miles of the Turk Plant site.
* Once the Turk Plant begins commercial operation, the 528-megawatt Welsh Unit 2 near Pittsburg, Texas, will be limited to no more than 60 percent of its annual capacity. SWEPCO also will seek regulatory approval to retire Welsh Unit 2 no later than Dec. 31, 2014. The retirement date may be extended to no later than Dec. 30, 2016, if needed to complete transmission mitigation work related to the unit’s retirement, as identified and approved by the Southwest Power Pool.
* SWEPCO and its affiliates will construct or secure 400 megawatts of new renewable energy resources. Any new wind projects developed to satisfy the renewable energy resource commitment must meet U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service guidelines for minimizing impacts from wind development on birds and wildlife, and must be located outside of any Important Bird Areas — including the Mississippi flyway — identified by the National Audubon Society as of the date of this settlement.
* The Turk Plant will burn coal only from the Powder River Basin in Wyoming or sub-bituminous coal with similar sulfur characteristics.
* No future transmission lines associated with the Turk Plant will cross the Nacatoches Ravines Natural Area; the Little River Bois D’Arc Management area; property currently owned by The Nature Conservancy or the Arkansas Natural Heritage Commission within Hempstead County; property currently owned by the Hempstead County Hunting Club, which includes Grassy Lake area; or along the Kiamichi Railroad in Hempstead County.
* SWEPCO will test total annual particulate matter emissions from the plant to evaluate the potential for a lower emission rate; perform an additional analysis of wastewater discharge quality during the first year of operations; perform additional groundwater monitoring at designated intervals; and conduct baseline mercury sampling tests to assess conditions prior to operation of the Turk Plant.
* SWEPCO will contribute $8 million to The Nature Conservancy for land conservation in Arkansas.
SWEPCO will contribute $2 million to the Arkansas Community Foundation, which will provide grants to support policy initiatives promoting clean energy resources and energy efficiency measures.
* SWEPCO will reimburse Sierra and Audubon for $2 million in attorneys’ fees and costs.