Guest writer

OPINION | GLEN HOOKS: Time to retire

Shut coal plant; help Arkansas

There is much to love about my home state of Arkansas.

Here in The Natural State, we care about each other. Arkansas is an always-interesting mix of the old and the new, the traditional and the modern. Trends don't often take off in Arkansas until we're convinced they make good sense.

You can see that demonstrated in our state's late, but now full-throttle, embrace of clean solar energy. In the last few years, cities, counties, school districts, and businesses across Arkansas have installed solar that's both good for the environment and saves significant amounts of money on power bills. Just this month, the city of Clarksville announced commitments that will allow their municipal facilities to run entirely on solar energy. Clarksville taxpayers are happy to save money, and Clarksville residents will breathe cleaner air to boot.

Like I said, we don't quickly embrace modern trends--but when something makes good sense, Arkansans are all in. That's why I believe it's finally time for our state to take the next step and phase out SWEPCO'S Flint Creek coal-burning power plant near Bentonville.

Burning coal is the single dirtiest way that we generate electricity. From the time it is mined to the time it is burned to the way that its toxic ash is stored, coal poses a direct threat to the health and safety of our communities. In short, dirty coal pollution is a danger to Arkansans.

Happily, in 2020 we have cleaner, safer, and affordable ways to generate electricity. Since 2010, 318 of our nation's coal plants have either retired or committed to retiring. That's well over half the country's entire coal-plant fleet. Two of those plants--Entergy's large White Bluff and Independence plants--are on that list of pending retirements. There are currently no coal plants being planned or constructed anywhere in the United States, while the cost of solar, wind, and energy storage continues to decrease. The trend of moving away from coal toward clean energy is happening throughout Arkansas.

It's now time to take the next step and retire Flint Creek.

The Flint Creek plant is 42 years old and approaching the end of its useful life. An EPA wastewater discharge rule change means that SWEPCO will soon have to either phase out the plant, or spend millions of ratepayer dollars to change the way it handles the tons of toxic coal ash generated at the plant--requiring older, disproportionately polluting plants like Flint Creek to meet modern standards for reducing harmful pollution. Do you want to see your power bills increased to prop up an aging and dirty coal plant when there are cleaner and cheaper power options available? Luckily, there is another option for SWEPCO, one that will allow the plant to transition to retirement and also avoid charging ratepayers tens of millions of dollars.

The new water discharge rule allows plants like Flint Creek a pathway to comply with the rule by phasing out coal operations by 2028. The Sierra Club encourages SWEPCO to take advantage of this option, which protects electric bills and leads to cleaner water down the road.

SWEPCO and its parent company, American Electric Power, have been responsibly phasing out coal plants across the country over the last few years. At the same time, SWEPCO has recently won approval for hundreds of megawatts of additional clean wind energy for its customers in Arkansas and Louisiana.

These trends are great news for our environment, our health, Arkansas ratepayers, and our economy. Sierra Club sincerely applauds SWEPCO's strong clean-

energy moves.

Closing the Flint Creek plant by 2028 is the next logical step. By 2028, Flint Creek will be 50 years old. In recent years, the plant's power has been dispatched at lower and lower levels as less expensive options have emerged. Scheduling retirement will save Arkansas ratepayers tens of millions of dollars while ending the release of several million metric tons of hazardous water and air pollutants each year.

While Arkansas was not among the first states to join the clean-energy trend, we are definitely here now. Our state is moving away from coal and moving toward clean solar, wind, and energy storage while enjoying the benefits to our economy and our environment.

The Sierra Club urges SWEPCO to continue its excellent trend toward generating clean, affordable energy, and close the Flint Creek coal plant. Taking that important step will let us all breathe a little easier.


Glen Hooks is director of the Arkansas Sierra Club and a representative of Sierra Club's Beyond Coal campaign.