Ark. Supreme Court Sets Hearing on Turk Plant

The Arkansas Supreme Court is scheduled on April 15 to hear oral arguments in Southwestern Electric Power Co.’s (SWEPCO’s) appeal of a court decision that took away a permit to build the 600-MW John W. Turk Jr. coal-fired power plant in Hempstead County—the nation’s first ultrasupercritical project.

SWEPCO’s appeal asks the state high court to review a June ruling by an Arkansas appeals court that overturned, on technical grounds, a key decision by the state regulators authorizing the plant’s construction. SWEPCO—an American Electric Power subsidiary—has continued the plant’s construction because it said delays could prove costly.

More than $830 million has been spent on the Turk project, including $622 million by SWEPCO for its 73% share of the plant. By September 2009, SWEPCO had an additional $375 million in contractual commitments for the plant.

The Arkansas Court of Appeals on June 24 overturned (PDF) the Arkansas Public Service Commission’s (APSC’s) November 2007 decision to grant a Certificate of Environmental Compatibility and Public Need (CECPN) to the $1.6 billion project. It ruled on the grounds that APSC had “erred by failing to resolve all matters in a single proceeding as required by Arkansas Code Annotated section 23018-502,” a clause related to the state’s Utility Facility Environmental and Economic Protection Act.

A CECPN is legal authorization granted by the state of Arkansas to a regulated utility to construct a power plant or transmission facilities and is only issued after public and formal review by the state and interested stakeholders. The June 24 ruling favored landowners, including the Hempstead County Hunting Club, Schultz Family Management Co., Po-Boy Land Co., and Yellow Creek Corp.

In January this year, the Arkansas Pollution Control and Ecology Commission affirmed the air permit for the plant now under construction in southwest Arkansas. The commission approved the recommended decision of its administrative hearing officer, who conducted hearings in June 2009 in an appeal by plant opponents.

The air permit, issued by the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality (ADEQ) on Nov. 5, 2008, regulates the plant’s main steam generating unit and other emission sources at the plant.

Estimated completion date for the facility is Oct. 1, 2012.

Last week, meanwhile, environmental groups, including the Sierra Club and the state and national Audubon societies, filed a federal lawsuit U.S. District Court in Texarkana against the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and its district engineer, Jeffrey Eckstein, seeking to halt construction of the plant.

The suit alleges that the Corps failed to comply with the National Environmental Policy Act and the Clean Water Act when it issued a permit to SWEPCO to fill wetlands and remove water from the Little River for the construction project.

Sources: SWEPCO, POWERnews, Sierra Club

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