Solar more competitive than electric monopolies acknowledge, STO says  
Becky Gillette

In a recent interview with the Eureka Springs Independent, Duane Highley, president and CEO of Arkansas Electric Cooperative Corp. (AECC), said recent rules announced by the EPA to reduce coal emissions are unfair to Arkansas. The average reductions being proposed nationwide are 33 percent. But because the state relies heavily on coal for power production, the EPA wants to require Arkansas to reduce coal emissions by 44 percent.

Highley said Missouri only has to reduce coal emissions 21 percent, and requiring a higher percentage from Arkansas is wrong.

“It just seems to me fundamentally unfair the government would ask Arkansas to make reductions on behalf of the rest of the country without compensating Arkansas for that,” Highley said. “We are working with congressmen and senators to help us with this inequity.”

Regarding alternative power, Highley said solar power is not yet competitive on a wide scale.

“People are doing it because they want to be more environmentally sensitive,” Highley said. “But, for most folks, it is not really saving them much yet.”

Highley said cooperatives are also looking at wind power, but the least expensive option is to import power from states like Kansas and Oklahoma where strong winds generate electricity at a cost 50 percent lower than Arkansas. To import that power means more high voltage transmission lines have to be built. He claimed solar wouldn’t be able to meet power demands in winter when it can be cloudy or stormy for long periods of time.

Solar was not one of the six less expensive and environmentally damaging alternatives presented by Save the Ozarks (STO) to the 345-kiloVolt transmission line proposed by American Electric Power/Southwestern Electric Power Co. (SWEPCO). In testimony before the APSC, STO’s expert, Hyde Merrill, presented six alternatives to the 345 kV transmission line proposed by SWEPCO.  

“Each of Dr. Merrill’s alternatives will cost less with far less environmental damage than the SWEPCO proposal,” said STO Director Pat Costner. “STO also promotes solar power as an affordable, reliable option for homes, businesses and schools. Off-grid and optional off-grid systems like the solar system at my home typically have enough battery storage to see us through cloudy weather. For example, I have been operating off-grid for some time now and have made it through the past two weeks of cloudy weather with no problem. Also, my photovoltaic panels generate some power even when it’s cloudy, except during very dark storm clouds.”

Doug Stowe, member of STO’s board of directors, said rapid advances made in solar are allowing panels to make power even in partial shade and where some trees partially block panels at various times, making them more efficient in winter.

“The rate of technological development is accelerating even as the price per unit falls,” Stowe said. “Germany has far fewer sunny days than Arkansas and they are making a huge investment in solar. Doesn’t that tell us something? Duane will naturally give you his industry’s position, and they just love coal at the AECC.”

Stowe said bringing in wind power from Oklahoma and Kansas and providing infrastructure to transport it across the state appears to be the hidden rationale for the Shipe Road to Kings River power line. “We have a document associated with the Clean Line [750-mile mega transmission line proposed to run from Oklahoma through Arkansas to Tennessee] that mentions its connection with concurrent development of the line,” Stowe said. “It is like the smoking gun illustrating that the 345-kV power line is not for local area reliability as they have so falsely claimed.”

STO is still celebrating its recent victory in being granted a rehearing before the Arkansas Public Service Commission (ASPC) challenging the need for the massive power line project. Costner said the ASPC is expected to set a schedule for the rehearing soon, but it is not yet known when the schedule will be released.

SWEPCO was granted a limited rehearing regarding the proposed route for the transmission line. The APSC revoked approval of Route 109 that traveled through southern Missouri for about 25 miles rather than SWEPCO’s preferred Route 33 through Pea Ridge, Garfield and Gateway in favor of going north from Bella Vista.

“The parties should provide additional evidence on SWEPCO’s proposed routes,” APSC ruled. “If SWEPCO chooses to propose or modify a route, it should submit proof that all landowners have received the statutory notice.”

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