Special Contribution By Mikel Lolley
AEP/SWEPCO is requesting the Arkansas Public Service Commission (PSC) approve a 345,000 volt transmission line from Benton County to Carroll County, carried atop 180-foot tall towers, requiring a 150-foot wide swath of denuded right-of-way, and cutting right across the most scenic part of the “Natural State.” The cost, about a $100 million.
I need to hear from AEP/SWEPCO why they can “take” my land, compromise my livelihood, require me to continue to pay the property taxes, and then ask me to pay for their project through a rate increase on my electric bill.
Conversely, Clean Line Energy has been meeting with leaders across the state about a 500,000 volt DC line across Arkansas to connect the wind energy of Oklahoma to the energy starved Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA). The Department of Energy is encouraging the private sector to develop business plans to get wind energy electrons from where they are produced to where they are consumed, so as to encourage the adoption of clean wind energy, and stabilize energy price volatility in regions such as the TVA.
The PSC turned down Clean Line Energy’s request, citing, “no long term benefit.” The PSC suggested that Clean Line consider adding a substation along the proposed route to allow Arkansas consumers access, and encourage completion. This substation would have added another $200 million to the $3 billion price tag, but provide the “long term benefit” the PSC was looking for. Clean Line’s response, “not financially feasible.”
Why would Clean Line sell their wind electrons for 8.5 cents to Arkansas, when they can sell those same electrons for 11.5 cents in Tennessee? Plus, Clean Line doesn’t want to shake-up the status quo of the electric utility cartel in Arkansas. They know that if they were perceived as a “competitor” the electric utility cartel would shut them down. Since Clean Line is proposing no “long term benefit,” the electric utility cartel remains silent. If the PSC would deny Clean Line citing, “no long term benefit.” Then it would make sense that the PSC would deny AEP/SWEPCO citing, “no long term benefit.” Right?
Last year, the PSC initially rejected AEP/SWEPCO’s request for new scrubbers on their 35-year-old Flint Creek plant in Gentry. The cost for new scrubbers, about $400 million, passed on to the rate payers. I had a staffer confide that the pressure on the PSC from the NWA region was so intense that the PSC would likely roll-over, and allow AEP/SWEPCO’s second request for new scrubbers.
The information the PSC needed to reject AEP/SWEPCO’s request was on AEP/SWEPCO’s own website. If Flint Creek were in any other state, owned and operated by AEP/SWEPCO, they would be required to retire this plant. But, since Flint Creek is in Arkansas, they can get away with putting new mufflers on it, squeeze a few more miles out of it, and pass the cost off on the Arkansas rate payer. Worse, sell those electrons to Missouri at a profit.
With simple math, the PSC rejected AEP/SWEPCO’s request for new scrubbers. But, in spite of the PSC’s most valiant efforts to uphold their oath of office, to protect the Arkansas rate payer, they caved under the political pressure, and granted AEP/SWEPCO their scrubbers.
There exists a pattern, whereby the electric utility cartel exercises their public/private partnership with the sovereign state of Arkansas to build Turk Plants, add new scrubbers, build high voltage transmission lines, passing these costs on to the Arkansas rate payer, only to send those electrons out of state to turn a profit, then stick Arkansas with all of the downside for diminished air and water quality, diminished land values, higher electric rates and with none of the upside.
We must change the way the utilities operate within Arkansas; change the Arkansas PSC, and the way they hear, review and approve utility requests. We need the PSC to move away from the unfair, short-sighted, business-as-usual strategies that have been deployed by the electric utility cartel within Arkansas for decades. We need to move toward a more honest and transparent process, whereby, the “long term benefit” of the Arkansas rate payer is considered in earnest.
We know that our best and brightest future is not more coal, new scrubbers, and new transmission lines on the back of the Arkansas rate payer. We know that our best and brightest future is in the emerging sectors of energy efficiency, renewable energy, wind, solar and bio energy. Do not build high voltage bridges from the past to nowhere. Build instead bridges that ensure the long term future of Arkansas.