Monday, July 25, 2011

Settlement reached in battle over Turk plant

Posted By on Mon, Jul 25, 2011 at 2:30 PM

SWEPCO has signed a confidential settlement of lawsuits challenging the construction of the John W. Turk Power Plant in Hempstead County, according to a news release from the power company. The Hempstead County Hunting Club and other plaintiffs have withdrawn their challenges to the plant's air permit and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers permit for the plant. The Sierra Club and the National Audubon Society, along with the local affiliate group Audubon Arkansas, will continue their challenges to the plant's air and Corps permits in the Arkansas Court of Appeals and the U.S. District Court, respectively. SWEPCO hopes to begin operations at the plant next year. The release, including a few details on the settlement, is on the jump.

The Hunting Club's exit means a loss of some financial clout for the plant's opposition — a huge sum has been spent in opposition, probably hundreds of thousands of dollars. The continuation of the water permit appeal — most recently held up by the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals — remains a critical issue because the plant can't operate without drawing water from the Little River. A significant victory in the settlement is SWEPCO's abandonment of plans to build a second unit of the coal-fired plant.

Lev Guter, a Sierra Club spokesman, said the Sierra Club will press forward.

As we have done for years, Sierra Club will aggressively oppose SWEPCO’s dangerous and dirty coal-fired power plant until it is defeated. The Sierra Club is steadfast in its commitment to protecting Arkansas’ public health, water, air and critical habitats from the destruction that dirty coal wreaks on our way of life. The decision by the Hempstead County Hunting Club to settle its lawsuit with SWEPCO (Southwestern Electric Power Company) does not affect the Sierra Club’s ongoing legal challenges to SWEPCO’s proposed Turk coal-fired power plant.

You can read the full Sierra Club statement on the jump. Said Audubon Arkansas:

“The Hempstead County Hunt Club has different and probably more local goals and priorities than those of Audubon Arkansas (a division of National Audubon Society) and Sierra Club; our issues are the increase in carbon emissions and the harmful pollutants that will be added to our air, water and land by the operation of this plant. Audubon and Sierra Club will fight on. From the recent rulings of the 8th District Court it is clear that we have a good case and the law on our side. We anticipate more victories in the future.”

SWEPCO Statement:

SETTLEMENT REACHED IN LAWSUITS CHALLENGING JOHN W. TURK, JR. POWER PLANT

SHREVEPORT, La., July 25, 2011 — Southwestern Electric Power Co. (SWEPCO), a unit of American Electric Power (NYSE: AEP), has signed a confidential settlement of lawsuits and other actions that challenged the construction of its John W. Turk, Jr. Power Plant in Hempstead County, Ark. Under terms of the settlement, the litigants are withdrawing all of their challenges to the plant, including the air permit and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers permit for the plant, and SWEPCO is making commitments regarding its future operations and environmental activities in the area.

Plaintiffs participating in the settlement are the Hempstead County Hunting Club Inc., Dr. Mary O’Boyle, Pat Schultz, the Pat Schultz Family Trust, YCR Limited Partnership, Yancey Reynolds and Charles Mills.

A stipulation of dismissal will be filed with the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Arkansas in Texarkana. The settlement resolves all issues raised by these plaintiffs in their challenges to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Section 404 permit for the 600-megawatt Turk project, which is located about 15 miles northeast of Texarkana. Additional filings will be made to withdraw the air permit appeal and terminate other cases.

Two litigants — the Sierra Club and the National Audubon Society/Audubon Arkansas — are continuing to challenge the air permit before the Arkansas Court of Appeals and the Corps permit in a companion case still pending before the U.S. District Court in Texarkana. SWEPCO will continue to aggressively defend the permits issued for the plant.

“We are pleased to have reached an agreement with the plant’s neighbors regarding these long-standing issues,” said Michael G. Morris, AEP chairman and chief executive officer. “Construction of the Turk Plant is 70 percent complete. As we move forward with this important project, we will continue to demonstrate our commitment to providing affordable, reliable power for our customers while being good stewards of the environment.”

Venita McCellon-Allen, president and chief operating officer of SWEPCO, added “The folks at SWEPCO, the hunting club and the local landowners all want what’s best for Hempstead County and the surrounding area — including jobs, economic growth, and protection and enhancement of the environment. With this settlement, we can turn from the time and expense of legal battles to continued work on the plant and actions that will help conserve and protect the area surrounding our plant, including the Little River Bottoms.”

The Turk Plant is scheduled to begin operations in 2012. More than 1,800 people are currently working at the site. “The plant has already provided a major economic boost for Southwest Arkansas despite some difficult economic times for our country. So many people in Fulton, McNab, Hope, Texarkana and beyond have supported us in our determination to get this much-needed facility built. I want to thank them for their continuing support,” McCellon-Allen said.

Gary Voigt, president of Arkansas Electric Cooperative Corp. (AECC), said, “This settlement helps put us a significant step closer to putting this plant in service for 490,000 co-op members in Arkansas.” AECC owns 12 percent of the plant.

Highlights from the settlement include:
• Litigants will withdraw from all lawsuits and administrative actions that challenge construction of the plant.
• No additional generation units will be constructed at the Turk plant site.
• No new coal-fired power plants will be proposed by SWEPCO at any location in Arkansas that is within 30 miles of the Turk Plant site.
• No future transmission lines associated with the Turk Plant will cross sensitive environmental areas.
• SWEPCO will provide funding to support the Hempstead County Hunting Club’s longstanding efforts to conserve, restore, preserve and enhance the Little River Bottoms, and the Grassy Lake area.
• SWEPCO will complete a base line mercury study for the Grassy Lake area near the Turk Plant.
• SWEPCO affirmed it will comply with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s recently announced Cross-State Air Pollution Rule.
• SWEPCO will complete the installation of clay and synthetic liners for the Turk Plant landfill, which recently received approval from the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality.
• SWEPCO will monitor the development of carbon capture and storage technology and install it at the Turk Plant if the technology becomes economically feasible and the costs can be recovered through electric rates.

SWEPCO, which owns 73 percent of the Turk plant, serves 520,400 customers in three states: 113,700 in western Arkansas, 225,700 in northwest and central Louisiana and 180,000 in north and eastern Texas. The cities of Hope, Bentonville and Prescott, Ark., are among SWEPCO’s wholesale customers.

American Electric Power is one of the largest electric utilities in the United States, delivering electricity to more than 5 million customers in 11 states. AEP ranks among the nation’s largest generators of electricity, owning nearly 38,000 megawatts of generating capacity in the U.S. AEP also owns the nation’s largest electricity transmission system, a nearly 39,000-mile network that includes more 765-kilovolt extra-high voltage transmission lines than all other U.S. transmission systems combined. AEP’s transmission system directly or indirectly serves about 10 percent of the electricity demand in the Eastern Interconnection, the interconnected transmission system that covers 38 eastern and central U.S. states and eastern Canada, and approximately 11 percent of the electricity demand in ERCOT, the transmission system that covers much of Texas. AEP’s utility units operate as AEP Ohio, AEP Texas, Appalachian Power (in Virginia and West Virginia), AEP Appalachian Power (in Tennessee), Indiana Michigan Power, Kentucky Power, Public Service Company of Oklahoma, and Southwestern Electric Power Company (in Arkansas, Louisiana and east Texas). AEP’s headquarters are in Columbus, Ohio.

Sierra Club Response:

Sierra Club spokesman Lev Guter provided the following statement in response to the announcement that the Hempstead County Hunting Club has settled with the Southwestern Electric Power Company (SWEPCO).

“As we have done for years, Sierra Club will aggressively oppose SWEPCO’s dangerous and dirty coal-fired power plant until it is defeated.

The Sierra Club is steadfast in its commitment to protecting Arkansas’ public health, water, air and critical habitats from the destruction that dirty coal wreaks on our way of life.

The decision by the Hempstead County Hunting Club to settle its lawsuit with SWEPCO (Southwestern Electric Power Company) does not affect the Sierra Club’s ongoing legal challenges to SWEPCO’s proposed Turk coal-fired power plant.

The Sierra Club will continue to pursue our lawsuits that are pending in Federal and State courts against SWEPCO’s Turk Plant. Recently, the United States 8th Court of Appeals upheld an injunction against construction on wetlands and the water intake structure and the Arkansas Supreme Court overturned SWEPCO’s certificate of need in May 2010. These victories against the facility show that Arkansas does not need another dirty and expensive coal plant.
Though the Hempstead County Hunting Club and SWEPCO were able to come to an agreement, the Sierra Club remains concerned that the proposed Turk plant will further contribute to health problems caused by coal-fired power plants felt by families across Arkansas. Wind, solar, and energy efficiency are safe, clean, and available.

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