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Alternative energy lacking connections, conference told

by Doug Thompson | September 27, 2016 at 1:00 a.m.

ROGERS -- The controversy and expense of building new infrastructure, such as transmission lines, hinders adoption of alternative energy sources, an Arkansan and member of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission said Monday.

Colette Honorable is a former member of the Arkansas Public Service Commission. She was appointed last year to the federal commission, which oversees power generation and distribution nationally. She spoke Monday at the Southern States Energy Board conference in Rogers at the John Q. Hammons Center.

Gov. Asa Hutchinson is chairman of the compact of 16 Southern states, which represents the region on energy policy. This was the first time the group has met in Northwest Arkansas in 56 years of conferences, Hutchinson said.

Both Honorable and Hutchinson stressed the importance to the group of having multiple sources of power, an "all of the above" series of options, to ensure stable prices for electricity.

The cost of electricity in Arkansas is below the national average, a vital advantage for recruiting industry such as the Sun Paper Co., the governor said. Sun Paper announced plans in April to build a $1 billion plant in Arkadelphia. The lower price stems in large part from having a variety of options for power generation, including coal, he said.

"Other than highways, energy policy and what it costs is absolutely critical for a manufacturer on where it is going to locate," the governor said.

Honorable mentioned the difficulty in getting new infrastructure for new plants. She said at a news conference after her speech the idea of alternative energy such as wind or solar is attractive in principle, but that "harnessing that technology requires sorting out the infrastructure and striking a delicate balance."

"Things like building a new transmission line are not popular," she said. "One advantage is that with an electrical grid, after about 30 years, you have to reinvest in that grid," Honorable said. Having to replace and upgrade major components of the system gives power suppliers the chance to make improvements and changes, she said.

Honorable did not mention any projects by name, noting she had to avoid mentioning specific cases that might come before the commission. Some residents of Arkansas were among two groups that filed a federal lawsuit last month against the U.S. Department of Energy to block the Plains and Eastern Clean Line. The transmission line would carry electricity from a wind farm in the panhandle of Oklahoma across the state to western Tennessee.

The Sierra Club, an environmental group, also has found objections to new infrastructure to be a serious obstacle to adopting energy alternatives, said Glen Hooks. Hooks is state director for the Sierra Club. He responded to Honorable and Hutchinson's remarks in a telephone interview Monday afternoon.

"I know some of the people who oppose the Clean Line and that they are honorable, principled people," Hooks said. "However, that's not always the case on other projects."

Defenders of the energy status quo, such as oil companies and utilities with coal-fired power plants, often use the same sort of arguments against potential competitors.

Industry speakers at the conference made similar points, saying political opposition to infrastructure like natural gas pipelines used to come almost exclusively from environmentalists on the political left but are now just as likely to come from the political right.

"Land rights is a big issue on the far right, and it's become a factor on getting power to the market," said Louis Finkel, executive vice president of the American Petroleum Institute. "You need more infrastructure, or none of this matters," he said in his remarks to the conference on drilling that increases the national supply of natural gas.

NW News on 09/27/2016

Print Headline: Links to alternative energy needed, conference told


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