Mystery: Dark money behind opposition to wind energy project | Arkansas Blog

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Mystery: Dark money behind opposition to wind energy project

Posted By on Tue, Mar 6, 2018 at 4:46 PM

click to enlarge AN ILL WIND: Who's blowing out the ads against SWEPCO's plan to harness wind energy? - SWEPCO
  • AN ILL WIND: Who's blowing out the ads against SWEPCO's plan to harness wind energy?
SWEPCO, the electric utility that serves part of Arkansas, is raising questions about a media campaign against their proposal to meet part of generating needs with a new wind power project., known as the Wind Catcher Energy Connection.

Said a release:

“A group known only as Protect Our Pocketbooks – which does not reveal the names of its backers or the sources of its substantial funding – is presenting misleading information to the public, including manipulation of statements by Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson,” said Brian Bond, SWEPCO Vice President of External Affairs.

Gov. Hutchinson wrote to the Arkansas Public Service Commission on Jan. 11 asking that the benefits of federal corporate tax cuts be passed on by utilities to Arkansas families and businesses. “In its latest television ad, Protect Our Pocketbooks misleadingly associates the governor’s comments about corporate federal tax cuts with the group’s campaign against Wind Catcher,” Bond said.

“The anonymous, tax-exempt opposition group claims that Arkansas gets none of the benefits of the project, which is incorrect and misleading. Arkansas will receive the benefits of generation with no fuel costs, cost savings immediately and over the life of the project, the full value of the federal Production Tax Credits available to the project, and the economic development benefits of wind turbine components being manufactured in Arkansas,” Bond said.

The $4.5 billion Wind Catcher project includes acquisition of a 2,000-megawatt wind farm under construction in the Oklahoma Panhandle and construction of a 360-mile dedicated generation tie line to the Tulsa area, where the existing electrical grid will deliver the wind energy to customers.

SWEPCO, which serves customers in Arkansas, Louisiana and Texas, will own 70 percent of the project. SWEPCO’s sister company, Public Service Company of Oklahoma (PSO) will own 30 percent.

“SWEPCO has been serving Arkansas customers for more than 100 years. This anonymous group has appeared overnight, representing undisclosed interests, to oppose lower electricity costs and more renewable energy for our Arkansas customers,” Bond said.
SWEPCO has predicted  $4 billion savings to electric customers over 25 years and also said the economy in Arkansas, Texas and Louisiana would be helped by production of turbine parts.

SWEPCO has reached an agreement with PSC staff and the attorney general's office on elements of the proposal now under consideration by the PSC. The company touts not only savings to customers but other benefits from a switch to a renewable energy source from coal, once the utility's major fuel.

Little is known about the opponents. A  consultant for Renewable Arkansas, a nonprofit offshoot of a group called  Americans for Affordable Energy, has placed an op-ed article recently opposing the SWEPCO project. The author, Grant Tennille, former director of the Arkansas Economic Development Commission, questioned the reliability of the savings estimate and also said it would provide an advantage to SWEPCO in continuing to sell excess electricity from existing coal-fired plants in Arkansas into the open market. Bringing in wind lowers the company's overall cost of power and makes the sales more profitable, he wrote. He has not responded to my email asking about his employer on the issue. He suggests, by the way, that SWEPCO should invest in solar power in Arkansas.

Whoever is behind the effort, they have money for media advertising. As this is neither a political campaign nor a ballot initiative, I'm not aware of a disclosure law that would require information on who's behind the campaign, useful though that would be in evaluating it.

UPDATE: I got this non-response response  From Grant Tennille on Wednesday:

I am working with an organization called Renewable Arkansas, a non-profit project of Americans for Affordable Energy, which seeks to protect consumers, secure America’s energy future and promote local renewable energy resources.

I am concerned that the Wind Catcher project in Oklahoma places too much risk on Arkansas consumers over the long term, with very little reward. This play is about AEP/SWEPCO’s bottom line, not customers.

I stand by the op-ed that I wrote, and have seen nothing responsive that answers my concerns, directly.
You can see he provided no answers to my concerns about who's paying for his work or the advertising, which included a full-page ad in the Wednesday Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.

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