Sierra Club takes Sooner scrubber decision to Oklahoma high court

The Sierra Club said May 26 that it filed an appeal that day with the Oklahoma Supreme Court, asking it to overturn a decision by the Oklahoma Corporation Commission that may leave ratepayers subsidizing a half-billion-dollar project to install SO2 scrubbers on the Sooner coal plant of Oklahoma Gas & Electric (OG&E).

The scrubbers will prolong the operation of the 35-year-old Sooner Power Plant, which has been “stalled” for the past six months as market conditions and updated pollution safeguards have rendered the plant economically inefficient, the club said. It added that the Southwest Power Pool (SPP) shut down the plant last year and put it on standby reserve.

In the decision that Sierra Club is challenging at the Supreme Court, it said the commission failed to include the consumer protections that were recommended by the commission’s own outside expert, Dr. Craig Roach. Dr. Roach asked the commission to include consumer protections from future rate increases if the Sooner plant fails to operate as the utility is predicting or requires additional upgrade costs to comply with modern standards.

Johnson Bridgwater, Director of the Oklahoma Sierra Club, said: “OG&E has been relentless in its pursuit to squeeze every cent it can from its ratepayers to subsidize its profits. After twice rejecting the utility, the OCC has now approved OG&E’s third request to pursue a risky half-billion dollar project to salvage an obsolete coal plant. Why are we sinking this kind of money into coal plants that need fuel from Wyoming, when we have abundant clean resources in our very own state?”

The reference to Wyoming is to coal supplied to the plant out of the Powder River Basin.

The commission on April 28 granted approval to Oklahoma Gas and Electric, a subsidiary of OGE Energy (NYSE: OGE), for a dry scrubber installation project at the Sooner coal plant. Sooner is a roughly 1,100-MW plant. The company had asked the OCC in February for an expedited approval of the estimated $500m installation of dry scrubbers on the two units at Sooner, which is located in Noble County, Oklahoma.

Commissioner Dana Murphy issued a statement that day saying the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) was leaving Oklahoma little choice but to approve the project. “The case before us today is the result of the federal EPA forcing a public utility in Oklahoma to make costly changes to comply with a federal plan imposed on Oklahoma for regional haze,” Murphy said, adding that Oklahomans were being squeezed by “Big Brother.”

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.