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Public Service Co. of Oklahoma touts 'Oklahoma solution' to regional haze as industrial consumers fear costs

A hearing on PSO's plan to phase out its coal units near Oologah to deal with visibility at federal parks drew support and criticism on Monday.
by Paul Monies Modified: May 20, 2013 at 9:33 pm •  Published: May 21, 2013

Calling it an “Oklahoma solution” that uses state-produced energy resources, representatives of Tulsa-based utility Public Service Co. of Oklahoma urged environmental officials Monday to approve a plan that phases out its last two coal units at a power plant near Oologah by 2026.

They were opposed by groups of industrial and business consumers who want to keep coal as a low-cost option for the utility's electricity generation.

The public hearing at the Department of Environmental Quality in Oklahoma City gathered comments on PSO's plan to deal with emissions affecting visibility at federal parks and wilderness areas.

PSO wants to retire one of its Northeastern Station coal units in 2016 and install emissions-control technology on the other unit. The utility will incrementally step down the operating capacity of the remaining coal unit over five years until its retirement by 2026.

PSO charted its own course on regional haze after coming to a settlement last year with the Environmental Protection Agency, Oklahoma Secretary of the Environment Gary Sherrer and the Sierra Club.

Oologah resident Bob Rounsavell, a Sierra Club member, said PSO's plan would be a great start to improving air quality.

“The agreement will bring about environmental benefits resulting in significant health benefits,” Rounsavell said. “By 2026, sulfur dioxide emissions from the Northeastern plant will be eliminated. Elimination of mercury and other toxins from burning coal will also be eliminated and will help improve health conditions, especially for Oologah residents.”

Bud Ground, PSO's manager of public affairs, said the utility's plan was better than a federal plan put in place by the EPA when it partially rejected a state implementation plan for regional haze. The federal plan calls for installation of expensive dry scrubbers.

“We knew we could come up with something that was better, lower-cost, better for our customers and better for our company than installing $800 million or so worth of control equipment on 30-plus-year-old coal units,” Ground said.

PSO said its plan could cost $350 million and raise customer rates by at least 11 percent beginning in 2016.

Concerns expressed

The Oklahoma Industrial Energy Consumers, a group of large industrial users, said PSO's plan could cost six times more than the federal implementation plan for regional haze.

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by Paul Monies
Energy Reporter
Paul Monies is an energy reporter for The Oklahoman. He has worked at newspapers in Texas and Missouri and most recently was a data journalist for USA Today in the Washington D.C. area. Monies also spent nine years as a business reporter and...
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