Flint Creek Power Plant
The Flint Creek Power Plant, located near Gentry (Benton County) and operated by Southwestern Electric Power Company (SWEPCO), is one of four coal-fired power plants in Arkansas.
On April 9, 1974, SWEPCO and the Arkansas Electric Cooperative Corporation (AECC) jointly filed an application with the Arkansas Public Service Commission (PSC) to build and operate a single-unit coal-fired power plant and related facilities in western Benton County near Gentry, close to the Arkansas-Oklahoma state line. SWEPCO would build and operate the plant. This application was the second request to build a major coal-fired generating plant in Arkansas filed within the first year after the Arkansas General Assembly adopted a law known as the Utility Facility Environmental Protection Act. The first request, a proposal by the Arkansas Power and Light Company (AP&L) to build the 3,200-megawatt White Bluff coal plant near Redfield (Jefferson County), had yet to be acted upon by the PSC at the time the SWEPCO/AECC application was made. While the main controversy in the White Bluff matter was the potential for air quality deterioration, the most critical concerns with the Flint Creek plant turned out to be the potential for groundwater contamination, as the applicants planned to build a dam on Little Flint Creek and a large cooling lake to serve the plant facilities.
The applicants were required to demonstrate to the PSC that the proposed coal-burning plant was necessary to meet their customers’ needs, that the plant would be compliant with applicable Arkansas laws and regulations, and that the facility would render an acceptable adverse environmental impact, considering the state of available and economically viable technology. As proposed, the plant would have a net 528-megawatt capacity, burning low-sulfur coal from Wyoming delivered to the plant via unit train by the Kansas City Southern Railroad. The plant’s 241-foot smokestack would be equipped with electrostatic precipitators to remove fly ash. The proposed manmade cooling lake used for heat dissipation would be formed by building a 100-foot high dam on Little Flint Creek almost five miles north Siloam Springs (Benton County). The applicants’ submission to the PSC included a supportive environmental impact statement (EIS). However, the applicants planned no sulfur dioxide removal equipment (scrubbers) for the facility.
In addition to the PSC staff, other parties participating in the PSC hearing challenging the applicants’ initial proposal were the Ecology Center of Arkansas, the Energy Council of Northwest Arkansas, the Arkansas Department of Pollution Control and Ecology (ADPCE) (renamed the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality in 1999), the Arkansas Department of Planning (ADP), and the Arkansas Department of Health (ADH); the latter two agencies were represented by the Arkansas Attorney General’s Office. Each of the intervening parties and staff of the PSC alleged that SWEPCO/AECC’s EIS was deficient in several key aspects, and a deficiency letter was issued to the applicants, requiring them to address more specifically certain key environmental aspects of the proposed generating station, particularly regarding the plant’s effect on water quality.
The PSC conducted four days of hearings beginning on September 16, 1974. During the hearings, there was virtually no disagreement on the issue of the need for additional plant capacity in the area by 1978. However, the PSC staff and all active intervenors vigorously challenged two aspects of the facility: the stack height of only 241 feet and the possibility that the planned cooling lake and water discharge from the lake into Little Flint Creek would violate Arkansas water quality laws and regulations, primarily state regulations regarding temperature, turbidity, and dissolved oxygen standards. The principal SWEPCO witness indicated that the company planned to allow public recreation and fishing at the lake, as was the practice at other cooling lakes at its plants in Texas.
On January 9, 1975, the PSC issued its first order in the case, finding that the need existed for the additional generating capacity in northwestern Arkansas. Secondly, the PSC ruled that the planned stack height would violate Section 8 of the Arkansas Air Pollution Code. Thirdly, the PSC found that sulfur scrubbers were not yet viable. Lastly, the PSC found that the applicants’ record regarding compliance with Arkansas water quality standards was deficient and incomplete for their planned cooling lake. In fact, the PSC was recognizing that a significant dispute still existed between the applicants and the ADPCE as to whether ADPCE regulations covered the entire cooling lake or only downstream discharge from the lake into Little Flint Creek. The PSC conditioned its approval upon the applicants successfully obtaining required air and water quality permits from the ADPCE as well as obtaining permission for the planned dam from the Arkansas Soil and Water Conservation Commission.
On December 16, 1974, SWEPCO officials met with ADPCE representatives in Little Rock (Pulaski County) to review the impasse and determine if there was a way for SWEPCO/AECC to obtain approval of the air and water permits from the ADPCE. SWEPCO agreed to acknowledge that the state had jurisdiction over water quality in the lake itself but asked the agency to grant an exemption from the regulations regarding temperature and dissolved oxygen in the lake. SWEPCO also revealed that it had secured assurance of additional water from the City of Siloam Springs for the lake. Further, SWEPCO agreed to raise the stack height to 540 feet, assuming the ADPCE would accept. Lastly, SWEPCO advised that its dam construction permit application was proceeding with the Soil and Water Conservation Commission. SWEPCO filed a detailed summary of its meeting with the ADPCE into the PSC public record.
Finally, on January 30, 1975, the PSC held a brief hearing, accepting testimony from representatives of SWEPCO and the ADPCE establishing that that all air and water quality regulations required for the Flint Creek plant and associated facilities would be complied with. It then formally granted SWEPCO/AECC their Certificates of Environmental Compatibility and Public Need.
Although the Arkansas Ecology Center appealed the PSC decision to the Pulaski County Circuit Court, the court denied the appeal on July 25, 1975. SWEPCO began construction of the generating plant and cooling lake in early 1975, and the facility has been operational since 1978. Local residents enjoy fishing and recreation in the cooling lake, and often refer to it as the “hot lake.”
In February 2012, SWEPCO and the AECC applied to the PSC for permission to add additional environmental controls to the Flint Creek Power Plant, including scrubbers. Following extensive hearings, legal briefings, and economic and operational analysis, the PSC, on July 10, 2013, unanimously approved the SWEPCO/AECC proposal to retrofit the requested sulfur-removal equipment to the plant.
For additional information:
Arkansas Public Service Commission Docket #74-015-U. Arkansas Public Service Commission. http://www.apscservices.info/efilings/docket_search_results.asp?casenumber=74-015-U (accessed November 8, 2021).
Commission Order of January 9, 1975. Arkansas Public Service Commission Docket #74-015-U. Arkansas Public Service Commission. http://www.apscservices.info/pdf/74/74-015-u_83_1.pdf (accessed November 8, 2021).
Commission Order of January 30, 1975. Arkansas Public Service Commission Docket #74-015-U. http://www.apscservices.info/pdf/74/74-015-u_87_1.pdf (accessed November 8, 2021).
Commission Order of July 10, 2013. Arkansas Public Service Commission Docket #12-008-U. http://www.apscservices.info/pdf/12/12-008-u_227_1.pdf (accessed November 8, 2021).
Letter from Pulaski County Circuit Court Judge Digby, July 24. 1975. Arkansas Public Service Commission. http://www.apscservices.info/pdf/74/74-015-u_95_1.pdf (accessed November 8, 2021).
Memorandum of Meeting of December 27, 1974. Arkansas Public Service Commission Docket #74-015-U. Arkansas Public Service Commission. http://www.apscservices.info/pdf/74/74-015-u_81_1.pdf (accessed November 8, 2021).
Frederic L. Frawley
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