Arkansas utility regulators should investigate a proposed settlement between Entergy Arkansas and two environmental groups, state Attorney General Leslie Rutledge said Thursday.
The Arkansas Public Service Commission should determine whether the provisions of the settlement, which would stop coal use at the state's two largest coal-fired plants by the end of 2030, are "necessary, reasonable, prudent and serve the public interest," Rutledge's filing says.
Entergy Arkansas proposed a settlement in federal court last month with the Sierra Club and the National Parks Conservation Association to stop using coal at the state's two largest coal-fired plants and to close down a 50-year-old natural-gas plant in Hot Spring County.
Rutledge also filed a motion to intervene in that case, which was filed in the Eastern Division of Arkansas.
In their lawsuit, the environmental groups alleged the utility had violated the Clean Air Act when it undertook projects in 2009 at the coal-fired plants without obtaining proper permits. The work resulted in an emissions increase, the complaint says.
Entergy maintains that it had all of the required permits.
Arkansas Public Service Commission filingView
In a filing Thursday with the Public Service Commission, Rutledge raised concerns regarding how the settlement's changes could affect customers' electricity bills.
Rutledge contends that Entergy Arkansas should not have entered the settlement without Public Service Commission approval.
The commission hears petitions to change customer rates.
Further, because the settlement is voluntary, the commission is not compelled to act in accordance with it, Rutledge argues in the filing.
"This settlement has not been properly vetted by the Public Service Commission, my office or other agencies that have the public's interest at heart," Rutledge said in a news release, adding that she pursued Thursday's actions "to ensure that the State's interest and those of its citizens and businesses are adequately protected."
In a statement issued Thursday evening, Entergy Arkansas officials argued that the settlement would end costly ongoing lawsuits over the coal-fired plants' use and noted that the state's implementation plan for the federal Regional Haze Rule, supported by Gov. Asa Hutchinson, already calls for the cessation of coal use at one of the plants by 2028.
"This settlement is in the best economic interest of our customers, our employees, our community and the company," the statement reads.
The Sierra Club also said the settlement would be economically beneficial in the state, while further improving public health and the environment.
"Our settlement with Entergy Arkansas responsibly transitions two of the largest and dirtiest unscrubbed power plants in the nation to retirement, while also committing to hundreds of megawatts of clean energy for our state," Arkansas Sierra Club Executive Director Glen Hooks said in a statement. "This settlement will mean cleaner air and more clean energy jobs right here in Arkansas."
Under the settlement's terms, the 1,659-megawatt and 1,678-megawatt coal-fired plants in Jefferson and Independence counties would close by the end of 2028 and 2030, respectively, and the 528-megawatt Lake Catherine natural gas-fired plant would close by 2027.
The coal-fired plants, referred to as White Bluff and Independence, are the two largest coal-fired power plants in the nation that lack modern emissions-reducing scrubbers, according to the Sierra Club. However, Entergy has invested in low-nitrogen oxide burners.
As a part of the settlement, Entergy must ask regulators for 800 megawatts of renewable-energy electricity generation.
For years, Entergy Arkansas has focused more of its electricity investments in natural gas and solar power, which have both become more cost-effective investments than coal, according to the utility. Solar power now supplies the highest number of jobs of any power source in the United States energy sector, according to federal data.
The utility has no current plans for the facilities, and the local school districts have expressed concern for the decline in tax revenue that would result from a plant closure.
Metro on 12/14/2018
Print Headline: Arkansas AG urges review of Entergy deal on power plants