Entergy Arkansas Proposes Shutting Down White Bluff Power Plant

Entergy's White Bluff power plant near Redfield.
Credit Arkansas Business

Entergy Arkansas Inc. on Friday proposed what it called “a more reasonable, long-term, multi-unit approach to address Arkansas’ regional haze” in response to the federal Environment Protection Agency’s rejection of the state’s earlier plan to improve visibility in wilderness areas.

The proposal comes only days after the EPA on Monday released its final rules on President Obama’s far-reaching and controversial “Clean Power Plan,” putting the nation on track to cut carbon pollution from the power sector 32% below 2005 levels by 2030.

“It is a lot to take in, and we are still taking it in,” said Hugh McDonald, President and CEO of the state’s largest utility. “But, we think our (regional haze) plan is in our customers’ best long-term interest.”

In the Arkansas utility’s response to the EPA, Entergy’s proposal calls for the eventual shutdown of its coal-fired operations at the White Bluff Electric Station in Jefferson County, instead of a more costly plan to install scrubbers atop the smokestacks of the sprawling power plant near Redfield by 2021.

According to McDonald, the proposed haze controls for the White Bluff power plant does not warrant an investment of over $2 billion in scrubber technology at the plants. Under the Entergy Plan, he said the utility would cease all coal-fired operations at the two coal-fired units in 2027 and 2028.

Entergy also makes the case that scrubbers are not necessary for the utility’s Independence Steam Electric Station in Independence County because the state had already made “reasonable progress” toward better visibility conditions that the EPA had previously approved.

“Based on the negligible visibility benefit from installing scrubbers at Independence, the cost of the controls is an astounding $1.33 billion to $1.53 billion per … improvement,” Entergy said in its 57-page filing. “Scrubbers at Independence are simply not necessary to ensure that visibility in Arkansas’ Class I areas remains below the (glide path), nor are they justifiable based on EPA’s own analysis of the visibility benefits resulting from such a huge investment.”

The proposal was part of Entergy’s deadline filing today in response to the EPA’s proposed guidelines that were published in the Federal Register on April 8 rejecting a portion of the Arkansas Department of Environment Quality’s regional haze plan, called Best Available Retrofit Technology, or BART.

In April, EPA representatives from the federal agency’s regional office in Dallas spent an entire day in Little Rock listening to comments from Arkansans on the pros and cons of the federal agency’s proposed rules to clean up haze in the state’s national parks and wilderness areas. Friday was the EPA’s extended deadline to response to the federal mandate.

The EPA said the state plan should have made “reasonable progress” toward protecting the Arkansas Buffalo National River, Ouachita National Forest and Caney Creek wilderness area from haze and the harmful effects of pollution. The proposed guidelines also address “downwind” haze problems from Arkansas power plants and factories that cross state lines.

Under the BART plan, ADEQ proposed retrofitting nine units and six mills and power plants across the state to meet the EPA requirements to reduce 71,500 tons a year of sulfur dioxide emissions and up to 15,000 tons of nitrogen oxide annually.

That proposal included limited emissions and five-year compliance schedules for stationary pollution sources across the state, including putting scrubbers, or pollution control devices, on nine smokestacks at six of the state’s largest power plants and factories in control to limit ozone and carbon dioxide emission.

During testimony held at ADEQ headquarters in April, Entergy officials said the EPA haze rule essentially targeted the aging White Bluff and Independence power plants at the same time, the president’s Clean Power Plan that would cut carbon emissions at those same plants by 2030.

Both the regional haze program and the president’s favorite program, The Clean Power Plan, were established under the Clean Air Act to control pollution at a national level. Entergy officials said the EPA’s proposed regional haze plan for Arkansas largely abandons the program’s intent of recognizing haze as “a regional problem.”

“EPA’s (regional haze plan) for Arkansas largely abandons this approach, ignores the significant improvements in visibility in Arkansas’ Class I areas that already have occurred, fails to account for the improvements that are anticipated to occur based on other regulatory programs, and seeks to impose more than $2 billion in costs on EAI’s customers and co-owners despite the lack of any need for, or benefit from, such a massive investment,” the state largest utility said in the executive summary of its comments submitted today.

Two weeks ago, Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge also submitted comments in response to the EPA’s rejection of the state’s regional haze plan. The comments by Rutledge, a frequent critic of the EPA during her first seven months in office, said federal regulators EPA acted in an arbitrary and capricious manner in its decision to require billions of dollars in compliance costs for very limited improvement in visibility.

“I am urging the EPA to carefully consider the comments that have been submitted,” Rutledge said. “This Federal Implementation Plan is a prime example of an overreaching federal regulation in a state in which recent data shows that visibility is improving. A plan crafted by Arkansas officials considering Arkansas’s best interests would serve the state much better.”

The comments from Rutledge, Entergy and other companies affected by the federal Clean Air Act mandate, including Domtar Corp. in Ashdown, will now go to officials at EPA’s regional office in Dallas for consideration.

Under the federal act, EPA and other Agencies have been monitoring visibility at national parks and wilderness areas since 1988. The Regional Haze Rule, established in 199, calls for state and federal agencies to work together to improve visibility in such places as the Grand Canyon, Yosemite, the Great Smokies and Shenandoah.

The rule requires the states, in coordination with the EPA, the National Park Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the U.S. Forest Service, and other interested parties, to develop and implement air quality protection plans to reduce the pollution that causes visibility impairment. Five multi-state regional planning groups are working together now to develop the technical basis for these plans.

If Entergy’s proposal is approved by the EPA, it will be the first coal plant retired in the state’s history, according to Glen Hooks, director of the Arkansas chapter of the Sierra Club.

“We are celebrating today, and we think they (Entergy) can do it sooner than 2027 and 2028,” Hooks said of the possible shutdown of White Bluff Station. “It is good to see that Entergy is making the decision to say coal is not the future for Arkansas – at the same time they are investing in renewable energy.”

Entergy announced this spring that the state’s largest electric utility plans to build a 81-megawatt photovoltaic solar energy generating facility in Arkansas County’s Grand Prairie no later than mid-2019.