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SWEPCO: Legal challenges to Turk plant settled

by Gavin Lesnick | December 22, 2011 at 10:11 a.m. | Updated December 22, 2011 at 10:19 a.m.
Photo provided by Southwestern Electric Power Co. of its coal-fired power plant under construction in Hempstead County.

— Southwestern Electric Power Company said Thursday that it has settled legal challenges to its construction of a power plant near Texarkana.

The Sierra Club, the National Audubon Society and Audubon Arkansas had filed suit over the John W. Turk Jr. Power Plant, a 600-megawatt coal-powered plant in Hempstead County.

Under the terms of the settlement, the legal challenges from those entities will be withdrawn and an injunction temporarily halting work on the facility will be lifted. In exchange, the utility will shut down another plant, pay millions to the environmental agencies and abide by a number of other restrictions once the new plant goes online.

SWEPCO said the settlement agreement includes the following provisions:

  • The 528-megawatt Welsh Unit 2 plant near Pittsburg, Texas will only be allowed to operate at 60 percent of its annual capacity once the Turk plant opens and it must be shut down completely by 2016.
  • Additional generating units will not be built at the Turk site
  • No new coal-fueled generating units can be added within 30 miles of the Turk plant.
  • The Turk plant will only burn coal from the Powder River Basin in Wyoming or coal with similar properties.
  • SWEPCO also must construct or secure 400 megawatts of new renewable energy meeting environmental guidelines set by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services, per the settlement.
  • New transmission lines from the Turk Plant won't cross Nacatoches Ravines Natural Area, the Little River Bois D'Arc Management area, property owned by The Nature Conservancy or the Arkansas Natural Heritage Commission within Hempstead County and property owned by the Hempstead County Hunting Club.
  • SWEPCO will test particulate matter emissions and wastewater discharge and perform additional groundwater monitoring.
  • SWEPCO will pay $8 million to The Nature Conservancy for land conservation, $2 million to the Arkansas Community Foundation for clean energy measures and $2 million to Sierra and Audubon for attorney fees.

Nicholas K. Akins, president and chief executive officer of American Electric Power, which owns SWEPCO, applauded the settlement agreement.

"We have long believed that the Turk Plant is the right generation solution for our customers in three states, our electric system and the economy in Southwest Arkansas," he said in a statement. "The provisions of the agreement are consistent with our commitment to renewable energy, energy efficiency and overall environmental stewardship."

Read tomorrow's Arkansas Democrat-Gazette for full details.

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