Arkansas PSC staff argues for quick decision on Flint Creek scrubber

Time is of the essence for a decision by the Arkansas Public Service Commission on an emissions control project at the coal-fired Flint Creek power plant due to deadlines under the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Mercury and Air Toxics Standards (MATS), said PSC staff in an April 19 post-hearing brief.

The Southwestern Electric Power unit of American Electric Power (NYSE: AEP) and Arkansas Electric Cooperative want to install an SO2 scrubber and other air controls at Flint Creek to meet MATS. The staff testimony of April 19 talked about the fact that the initial MATS deadline is April 2015, with uncertainties related to getting any of the two one-year extensions that MATS allows.

“The uncertainty of the likelihood for securing an extension of the [MATS regulations] and the time required to pursue a possible extension would put continued operation of the Flint Creek Plant in jeopardy and could present a risk of reliability in Northwest Arkansas,” staff wrote. “The time frame for complying with the MATS regulations and the time requirements for acquiring or planning, designing, and constructing the alternatives to retrofitting Flint Creek constrain the potential viability of the various alternatives. Although it may be possible to expedite the Louisiana Market Based Mechanism (MBM) process, to obtain extensions for MATS compliance, and to pursue high priority planning and review through Southwest Power Pool (SPP), these options are uncertain at this time and the time it would take to pursue these options would likely result in additional delays. The EPA compliance deadline and the risk and uncertainty in obtaining an extension to the deadline are critical factors in Staff’s recommendation that the Commission approve the retrofit of Flint Creek in order to maintain reliability in Northwest Arkansas.”

SWEPCO and Arkansas Electric Cooperative (AECC) have stated that in the case of the retirement/transmission option proposed in the latest round of testimony, that it is impossible to complete the transmission upgrades and additions to replace Flint Creek capacity by April 2015 which would cause significant reliability concerns for the Northwest Arkansas load pocket. However, the Sierra Club argues that this April 2015 deadline amounts to “nothing more than an attempt to mislead and panic the Commission into approving SWEPCO’s proposed retrofits, regardless of the existence of less-expensive alternatives.”

The Sierra Club’s witness, Paul Chernick, argues that the availability of a one-year extension makes the effective deadline for MATS compliance April 2016, and that the April 2016 deadline does not apply to units that are required for reliability, making the effective deadline for Flint Creek in April 2017, the end of the second and final extension year, staff noted.

For support of his argument, Chernick relies on an EPA memorandum dated Dec. 16, 2011. In this memorandum, the EPA indicates that it will not pursue enforcement of the MATS compliance deadlines so long as the source complies with the terms of the memorandum. However, an AEP official has said that an assurance from EPA that it will not pursue enforcement of the deadline does not protect the company from citizen suits from the Sierra Club or others to enforce the statutory deadlines.

There is no history and no precedent which can guarantee which interpretation the EPA (or the courts) will take regarding the deadlines and available extensions to those deadlines. “It is precisely this uncertainty which raises a major concern in this Docket,” staff wrote. “Relying on Sierra’s untested theory regarding possible extensions places reliability in the Northwest Arkansas load pocket at risk, which is not an acceptable outcome.”

SWEPCO applied in February 2012 at the Arkansas commission for approval on these projects. Then it and plant co-owner Arkansas Electric Cooperative, as the case late last year was winding toward a PSC decision, got an approval that allowed them to file additional testimony in January that focused on the need for this plant for regional transmission support purposes.

SWEPCO is asking the commission for a declaratory order approving installation of $408.7m worth of new emissions controls on Flint Creek. The planned controls include: dry flue gas desulfurization (DFGD) equipment for SO2 control; activated carbon injection (ACI) for mercury; and Low NOx burners and over-fired air facilities for NOx control. The DFGD system selected by the project engineers will also include a pulse jet fabric filter, commonly called a baghouse.

Flint Creek is a single-unit, pulverized coal-fired plant with a net capacity of 528 MW and was placed in service in 1978. SWEPCO’s ownership portion of this unit is 264 MW (net), and it is responsible for operating and maintaining the plant.

About Barry Cassell 20414 Articles
Barry Cassell is Chief Analyst for GenerationHub covering coal and emission controls issues, projects and policy. He has covered the coal and power generation industry for more than 24 years, beginning in November 2011 at GenerationHub and prior to that as editor of SNL Energy’s Coal Report. He was formerly with Coal Outlook for 15 years as the publication’s editor and contributing writer, and prior to that he was editor of Coal & Synfuels Technology and associate editor of The Energy Report. He has a bachelor’s degree from Central Michigan University.