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Environmental Group Grades Utility Companies On Steps Toward Clean Energy

The John W. Turk Jr. Power plant in Fulton, Ark., seen here on Saturday, is operated by Southwestern Electric Power Company. The company got a B in the report released Monday by the Sierra Club.
Michael Hibblen
The John W. Turk Jr. Power plant in Fulton, Ark., seen here on Jan 23, 2020, is operated by Southwestern Electric Power Company.

A report released Monday by an environmental group says three Arkansas utility companies are doing better than most companies nationwide, but still have room for improvement.

In The Dirty Truth About Climate Pledges report, the Sierra Club assigned letter grades to utilities in the U.S. based on action taken toward reducing carbon emissions. Criteria included efforts to retire coal plants, stop building natural gas plants, and the construction of new, clean energy facilities.

Glen Hooks, director of the Arkansas Sierra Club, says  is intended to show which companies are taking real steps toward clean energy.

“Recently it’s been pretty trendy for utilities to publicly pledge to be carbon neutral by a certain date. This Sierra Club report analyzes major utilities around the country not just on their pledges, but on their actions and their actual corporate plans filed with regulators,” Hooks said.

The environmental group also launched an interactive website to enable the public to easily look up utilities, see scheduled actions and investments that have been made toward renewable energy.

“Our utility companies in Arkansas are doing better than most in the country, but we still have a good long ways to go,” Hooks said.

Southwestern Electric Power Company had the best grade in the state with a B, which Hooks says was largely based on plans to build wind energy facilities and to retire several dirty coal plants. What keeps it from having an A, he says, is the Flint Creek Power Plant in northwest Arkansas.

“If they were able to get rid of that and phase that out like they are doing with many of their other coal plants across the country, they would grade even higher, but instead they’re continuing to operate it and are making pledges to continue operating that coal plant in northwest Arkansas,” Hooks said.

Entergy Arkansas and the Arkansas Electric Cooperatives each got a C.

“Entergy Arkansas’ lower score is based largely upon its announced plans to build several thousands of megawatts of fracked gas power plants in the near future. That’s not really the future we need if we’re going to be serious about stopping the climate crisis,” Hooks said. “That doesn’t really fit with their pledge to be carbon neutral. They’re saying they want to be carbon neutral, but their plans to build more gas really don’t fit with that pledge in a way that’s going to be helpful.”

Arkansas Electric Cooperatives didn't do better because it still relies heavily on fossil fuel rather than having a clean energy plan in place, he said.

The 50 utility companies graded nationwide account for 68% of the remaining coal plants generating capacity, the report says. They have committed to retire 25% of those by 2030.

“I think the thing that is encouraging is that we have some utilities that are publicly saying the right things and in fact, they’re doing the right things with regard to clean energy,” Hooks said, “but really their actions on carbon reduction aren’t yet matching their rhetoric and they’re not moving to clean energy quickly enough to meet the moment. So if we’re to effectively combat climate disruption, our Arkansas utilities must be even bolder, even cleaner and faster in their transition to clean energy.”

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