HOUSTON Dec 20 American Electric Power Co's
Louisiana-based utility said its $1.8 billion Turk power
plant in Hempstead County, Arkansas, has begun commercial
operation, the nation's first ultra-supercritical coal-fired
unit and one of the few coal plants currently being completed.
The 600-megawatt John W. Turk Jr. power plant is owned by
Southwestern Electric Power Co (SWEPCO) and was built in about
four years despite numerous legal challenges by local and
environmental groups to stop the plant.
U.S. power companies began planning dozens of new coal
plants in the mid 2000s when natural gas prices soared and power
demand was rising, making coal plants economical.
However, many projects were delayed or canceled as
environmental groups launched legal challenges and gas prices
tumbled with increased domestic production. The recession pared
expectations for power demand growth, and federal regulators
implemented stricter emission limits for coal plants, including
a proposal to limit carbon dioxide emissions from new plants.
Turk uses an advanced coal combustion technology that burns
low-sulfur coal at higher temperatures, which requires less coal
and produces fewer emissions, including carbon dioxide, than
traditional pulverized coal plants, SWEPCO said.
"The Turk Plant is yet another example of AEP's long history
of advancing coal-fueled generating technologies," said Nicholas
Akins, AEP's chief executive officer, in a statement.
Turk will supply power for SWEPCO's 406,000 retail customers
in Louisiana and Texas, as well as about 400,000 customers of an
East Texas electric cooperative.
In Arkansas, where the Arkansas Supreme Court reversed state
regulatory approval allowing the plant to serve retail
customers, Turk will sell power to SWEPCO's wholesale customers
- the cities of Hope, Prescott and Bentonville - and the 490,000
customers of the Electric Cooperatives of Arkansas.
SWEPCO holds a 73 percent stake in the plant. Co-owners
include the Arkansas Electric Cooperative Corp, 12 percent; East
Texas Electric Cooperative, 8 percent; and the Oklahoma
Municipal Power Authority, 7 percent.
The project was announced in August 2006. An air permit
issued in 2008 was the subject of a number of court appeals.
In late 2011, SWEPCO announced a broad settlement to end
pending legal challenges to the plant's air and wastewater
permits brought by the Sierra Club, the National Audubon Society
and Audubon Arkansas.
SWEPCO agreed not to build more coal-fired generation within
30 miles of the Turk plant, to limit output at an older
coal-plant in Texas, to build 400 megawatts of renewable
generation, to test emissions from the plant, to contribute
millions of dollars to The Nature Conservancy and the Arkansas
Community Foundation and to pay the opponent's legal fees.
SWEPCO president Venita McCellon-Allen said the Turk plant
"demonstrates our commitment and ability to meet stringent
environmental standards set by federal and state regulatory
The plant will have 109 permanent workers with an estimated
annual payroll of $9 million, SWEPCO said.