An electric utility can finish building a $2.1 billion dollar coal-fired power plant in southwest Arkansas after announcing a settlement Thursday with environmental groups that have long been opposed to the plant.
The Audubon Society and Sierra Club said Southwestern Electric Power Co. agreed to mothball an older coal plant in northeast Texas to help offset generated by the new plant in Fulton, Ark.
The settlement will pave the way for workers to finish construction of the 600-megawatt plant, which environmentalists said could harm the surrounding land.
“It’s a clear path to completion,” said Venita McCellon-Allen, SWEPCO’s president and chief operating officer. “And we’re very excited about that.”
According to an Associated Press report, the John W. Turk Jr. Power Plant is more than 80 percent complete and is scheduled to begin commercial operation in late 2012, the utility said. The environmental groups’ lawsuit was the last roadblock in moving forward with the plant.
SWEPCO said that once the Turk plant is up and running, a 528-megawatt unit near Pittsburg, Texas, will be limited to no more than 60 percent of its annual capacity. The utility will retire that plant no later than the end of 2016.
The utility will reimburse the environmental groups for $2 million in legal costs and chip in $10 million to other groups for energy-efficiency advocacy and land conservation efforts.
“While we’d prefer that the Turk plant not be built, (Thursday’s) settlement brings some very good news for Arkansas, which would not have been possible without years of citizen opposition to dirty coal plants,” Glen Hooks, with Sierra Club, said in a statement.
SWEPCO, which owns 73 percent of the plant, is an operating unit of American Electric Power, one of the largest electric utilities in the nation. SWEPCO serves more than 500,000 customers in Arkansas, Louisiana and Texas. AEP delivers electricity to more than 5 million customers in 11 states.