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Water power.

Arkansas' Hydroelectric Power Plants Provide Low-Cost Energy, No Pollution And Good Fishing

This is the last in a three-part series on the heightened environmental interest of the 1990s. Corporations are having to spend millions of dollars to meet state and federal mandates. But there are some companies that are taking the initiative and making money as the environmental movement gains steam. This week, Arkansas Business examines three more.

It's not exactly the wave of the future. It's more like a return to the past.

Water traditionally has been a power source. Hydroelectric plants have graced the Arkansas landscape for more than 40 years.

In Washington state, hydroelectric plants date back to the 1920s.

Proponents point out that hydroelectric plants don't produce much pollution. There are no air emissions. Foreign substances aren't released into the water. The land is not damaged.

"It is reliable, stable and the benefits are good," says Jim Davis, manager of corporate communications for Arkansas Electric Cooperatives Inc. "Unfortunately, there are not enough rivers."

Environmentalists who have fought for decades to keep the state's remaining free-flowing streams from being dammed might disagree.

But officials of Arkansas Electric Cooperative Corp. are proud they have been able to combine a network of coal-, oil- and gas-fired generating stations with hydroelectric facilities along the Arkansas River.

AECC is the wholesale power supplier for 16 electric distribution cooperatives in Arkansas. Those cooperatives serve 320,000 homes, farms, businesses and industries.

AECI, meanwhile, is engaged in the production and repair of transformers, the construction and maintenance of electrical substations and transmission facilities and the marketing of related hardware.

AECC and AECI share certain facilities and personnel. They have overlapping boards of directors.

AECC operates a hydroelectric plant at Lock & Dam No. 13 on the Arkansas River at Barling in west Arkansas. Construction is about 50 percent complete on a plant at Lock & Dam No. 9 at Morrilton.

The generation and transmission cooperative also has secured licenses to build plants at Lock & Dam No. 3 at Grady and Dam No. 2 at Arkansas Post in southeast Arkansas. Recently, the time period to begin construction on those plants was extended.

This summer, the AECC board will review the feasibility of beginning construction on a third hydro plant.

The Clyde T. Ellis Hydroelectric Generating Station at Barling cost about $75 million to build. It went into commercial production in December 1988.

By the time the Morrilton plant is on line in October 1993, about $85 million will have been spent on that facility.

But hydroelectric power plants tend to be low-cost ventures once built.

"It's a question of how much money you can afford to spend in order to save money," says Curtis Warner, AECC's principal engineer for the environment and power supply. "All the money is up front."

According to company records, the Ellis plant was sold by AECC to Meridian Trust Co. of New York for $105 million in 1988. Meridian is leasing Ellis back to AECC. The lease expires Dec. 31, 2013.

"There's long-term debt," Warner says. "But once it is paid off, the cost of generating the electricity is basically free."

Warner likens it to someone trying to decide whether to purchase a truck that runs on unleaded gasoline or diesel fuel. The gasoline-powered truck costs less, but the fuel is more expensive. The diesel truck is more expensive, but the fuel is cheaper.

Hydroelectric power, as efficient as it is, accounts for only a fraction of the total energy supply.

For instance, the coal-burning Independence Steam Electric Station at Newark has a 1,678-megawatt capacity. The Ellis facility can only generate up to 33 megawatts.

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As part of the massive navigation project guided through Congress by Sen. John L. McClellan, D-Ark., the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers built 17 dams from Arkansas Post to Tulsa, Okla. Hydroelectric plants initially were constructed at Ozark and Dardanelle, where deep pools resulted from the dams.

The other dams went untapped for years from a power standpoint.

When the cost of energy escalated two decades ago, the electric cooperatives began to more closely examine the benefits of hydroelectric power. AECC officials went to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission seeking permission to study the feasibility of additional hydroelectric stations along the Arkansas River.

Seven sites were examined. Four dams were found at which a plant could be built without disrupting the flow of water.

AECC engineers spent more than $1 million on studies to satisfy Corps of Engineers requirements. Two years after applying for a license, AECC received permission to begin construction of the Ellis facility.

Now embedded near Lock & Dam No. 13 is a low-profile, low-maintenance plant that generates an hourly average of 26 megawatts. AECC also constructed park facilities. Fishermen like the oxygen-dense waters near dams.

"I don't know if there are any more fish, but there are more fishermen," Warner says.

The Memphis State University graduate is used to explaining the wonders of hydroelectric power. He often breaks out models of hydroelectric plants to explain the concept to visitors.

"Different people want to know different things," Warner says. "Engineers want to know about the construction. Businessmen want to know about the cost."

Warner's new baby is the Morrilton plant. Construction began Aug. 1, 1990, and will have cost about $85 million by the time the facility is completed. Once on line, annual energy production from the plant will equal what it would take 61,000 tons of coal or 225,000 barrels of oil to generate.

Water will flow through a 19-foot turbine, which resembles a giant propeller.

"Nothing is done to the water," Davis says. "It flows through and flows out ... No fuel is burned. There's no disruption of the land. Nothing is dug up. There's really no pollution.

"... The cost of producing electricity at this type of plant basically will be the same 50 years from now as it is today."

"Hydroelectric power becomes more and more feasible," Warner says. "The fuel is essentially free."

Little maintenance is required. The Ellis plant is not manned. It is controlled from AECC's corporate headquarters in southwest Little Rock. On this weekday morning, an engineer punches a button and up pops a report on the power-generating station 150 miles to the west.

"It's quite simple, really," Warner says, eyeing the computer screen. "It's designed to be unmanned. There are very few moving parts.

"... Not a lot should go wrong. You know, it's water."
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No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
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Title Annotation:Corporate Conservation, part 3; Arkansas' hydroelectric power plants
Author:Webb, Kane
Publication:Arkansas Business
Date:Feb 24, 1992
Previous Article:Top and bottom.
Next Article:Pollution prevention.

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