Favorite

Power plant peril 

Your heart does not have to bleed for the black-bellied whistling duck or the Ouachita rock pocketbook mussel to be alarmed about the coal-burning plant that one of the nation’s biggest energy companies wants to build near Grassy Lake in Hempstead County.

It’s enough just to be concerned about mankind.

That is only a trifle melodramatic. The big generating plant that Southwestern Electric Power Co. wants to build on nearly 3,000 acres in the woods off Interstate 30 between the towns of McNab and Fulton will not itself threaten human existence, and the mercury and carbon dioxide that will be pumped from it might not even kill off any of a dozen rare species like the rock pocketbook mussel and the interior least tern, or the odd whistling duck that finds a rare breeding home there, or the vast crop of alligators that still infest the primordial swamp that lies just north of the plant site.

Were he alive, my old friend Jimmy Jones from Hope, who revered Grassy Lake and its cypress swamps as one of the great places on Earth, would be as mad as the well-heeled owners of the hunting clubs that have lodged objections to the plant with the state Public Service Commission. The PSC must decide after a hearing this month whether to give Swepco a certificate of public need and environmental compatibility to build it.

But the plant at McNab is one of 150 coal-fired electric generating plants that are under construction or planned at a moment when Americans and the whole world are growing alarmed about global warming and the other harms from greenhouse gases and mercury pollution of the land and water. One plant that will puff some 6 million tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere every year is deadly enough. It would produce more carbon dioxide than all the cars in Arkansas. One molecule of carbon dioxide, the worst of the greenhouses gases, stays in the atmosphere from 50 to 200 years. The 150 plants, when they are finished, will raise greenhouse gas levels from the United States by 10 percent.

Swepco plans to use low-sulfur coal with lower heat content, which will arrive by train daily from the Powder River Basin in Wyoming. The site was chosen because it’s on the Kansas City Southern route. The coal will be heated at much higher levels to produce more power and fewer emissions, but the emissions will still be enormous. The plant will use 6,000 gallons of water a minute from the Little River.

The coal plants are planned to meet rising electricity demands, and most alternative fuel sources are too expensive or, like nuclear, time-consuming. But there are other options. Duke Energy Carolinas announced last month that it would avoid building some new plants by investing heavily in helping customers reduce their consumption. The utility will be compensated for verified reductions in wattage by helping people turn their homes and businesses into energy-efficient enterprises. It will mean big savings for customers and less pollution.

Even if it builds the plant, the utility can vastly reduce the poisonous emissions and virtually eliminate the deadliest, carbon dioxide. Swepco and its giant parent, American Electric Power, are actually industry leaders in pollution technology, wind power and conservation. American Electric is building two coal-burning plants in Oklahoma and West Virginia using new sequestration technology that pumps the carbon from the smokestacks back into the ground.

Why wouldn’t it do that in Arkansas, where electricity plants are already sending 58 billion pounds of carbon into the atmosphere every year? It would be more expensive to sequester the carbon and, well, it’s Arkansas, where government is known traditionally to be more understanding of the wishes of big corporations, utilities in particular. This new Public Service Commission, however, gives you hope.

The federal government, at least when the current administration leaves, almost certainly will place greater restrictions on greenhouse gas emissions from power plants through a cap-and-swap system. American Electric Power and the industry lobby group, the Edison Electric Institute, support such a move, although the industry wants something very, very modest. But it surely will be enough to force Swepco and others to retrofit their new plants with the sequestration technology, which then would be far more expensive for both the company and its 445,000 customers in the Arklatex, or else pay $50 for every ton of carbon dioxide the plant emits under cap-and-trade rules.

The better policy is to do right from the start.

Favorite

Sign up for the Daily Update email

Comments (2)

Showing 1-2 of 2

Add a comment

 
Subscribe to this thread:
Showing 1-2 of 2

Add a comment

More by Ernest Dumas

  • Inhuman America

    Our history has included some evil passages — slavery and white supremacy, the forced removal of Native Americans from their homes, the imprisonment and dispossession of Japanese Americans during World War II, the torture of prisoners in latter-day wars — but it is also a part of our history that we came to officially regard them all with shame, as offenses to the human rights that were our original values.
    • Jun 21, 2018
  • Legislative boodlers

    Which sounds like the best use of your taxpayer dollars: helping pay for medical care for unemployed people, or bribing and lobbying legislators and other government officials to bestow millions of your tax dollars on a corrupt organization that claims it helps poor people who have drug problems or disabilities?
    • Jun 14, 2018
  • Scary Granny Pelosi

    Nancy Pelosi has replaced Barack Obama as the all-purpose bete noir of Republican politicians, including Arkansas's, but will she be as potent as the black president?
    • Jun 7, 2018
  • More »

Readers also liked…

  • Along the civil rights trail

    A convergence of events in recent days signaled again how far we have come and how far we have yet to go in civil rights.
    • Jan 18, 2018
  • The Oval outhouse

    One thing all Americans finally can agree upon is that public discourse has coarsened irretrievably in the era of Donald Trump and largely at his instance.
    • Jan 18, 2018
  • Shrugging off sulfides

    The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reported a shocker on its front page Sunday. The rotten-egg odor from the Koch brothers' sprawling paper plant at Crossett is still making people sick, but the state's pollution control agency is unaware of the problem.
    • Mar 29, 2018

Latest in Ernest Dumas

  • Inhuman America

    Our history has included some evil passages — slavery and white supremacy, the forced removal of Native Americans from their homes, the imprisonment and dispossession of Japanese Americans during World War II, the torture of prisoners in latter-day wars — but it is also a part of our history that we came to officially regard them all with shame, as offenses to the human rights that were our original values.
    • Jun 21, 2018
  • Legislative boodlers

    Which sounds like the best use of your taxpayer dollars: helping pay for medical care for unemployed people, or bribing and lobbying legislators and other government officials to bestow millions of your tax dollars on a corrupt organization that claims it helps poor people who have drug problems or disabilities?
    • Jun 14, 2018
  • Scary Granny Pelosi

    Nancy Pelosi has replaced Barack Obama as the all-purpose bete noir of Republican politicians, including Arkansas's, but will she be as potent as the black president?
    • Jun 7, 2018
  • More »

Most Recent Comments

  • Re: The cult of Trump

    • That isn't what I said, and you know that pretty well, Oaf. Just lies and…

    • on June 23, 2018
  • Re: The cult of Trump

    • Rabbi, you probably don't know Steven. He's the head Kool-Aid taster for the Trump cult…

    • on June 22, 2018
  • Re: The cult of Trump

    • Those traits sound like most any politician in DC, mostly the Dims.

    • on June 22, 2018
 

© 2018 Arkansas Times | 201 East Markham, Suite 200, Little Rock, AR 72201
Powered by Foundation