As the 88th Arkansas General Assembly convened at noon today, State Representative David “Bubba” Powers' tenure will have officially come to a close just as the AEP/Southwestern Power Co. John Turk, Jr., Plant at Fulton has gone commercial, an event which might not have occurred had not Powers put his legislative career on the line to change the way public utilities do business before the Arkansas Public Service Commission.
The Turk Plant's construction schedule was jeopardized by litigation from private hunting clubs in Hempstead County and environmental interests from outside of Hempstead County, particularly, in connection with the manner in which AEP/SWEPCO had presented its case before the PSC.
Opponents argued in court that SWEPCO should have presented its case for the need, construction, ancillary requirements and commercial operation of the plant in one, sweeping docket before the PSC, rather than in a series of docket filings, as had been done for years by public utilities.
The opposition argued that, because SWEPCO fit a key definition concerning public utilities under state law, that it had misapplied the intent of the statute through its separate filings. It was in the course of that litigation that Powers became the chief sponsor of a bill to clarify the law, particularly the definitions which applied to public utilities; thereby, making the point moot, and, ultimately fostering a settlement of all litigation against the project.
“The PSC has an extraordinary amount of checks and balances, and is very diligence in doing their work,” Powers said. “From an economic development standpoint, even if you take the Turk Plant out of the equation, I think you can always do a favor to companies, even globally, to simplify the process. I think it's very important piece of legislation that has helped us locally; but, I think that the PSC was certainly on board, even though they felt like they had to stay neutral in this.”
That neutrality spoke volumes.
“I think in the whole scheme of things they felt like it was a good piece of legislation, and for the state as a whole,” he said. “Even Little Rock was silent, or neutral, in regards to the Turk Plant, I think the most important thing we got out of Little Rock was that they were silent; they didn't do anything pro or con regarding the process. I think, as they look at it, and it might be Economic Development, the Governor's Office, or whoever it might be, this is going to be a good, valuable piece of legislation in attracting business to Arkansas in the future.”
The impact of the change in that one definition will pay dividends in the future, Powers believes.
“Yeah, of course, I'm biased; I think it was a great piece of legislation,” he quipped. “I think for years to come, we are not going to know, admittedly, what made one business come here and kept others away; but, in the end, I think it's going to be an incentive for those businesses that understand we want to foster an environment that is conducive to good paying jobs coming to Arkansas. That, I think, is the importance of the legislation for the entire state.”
Page 2 of 2 - Whether SWEPCO's success in bringing Turk to fruition will mean the company will further develop the 3,000 acres it has under the Turk site is something Powers thinks has possibilities.
“I certainly hope so,” he said. “I'm not privy to any immediate plans. But, when you spend $2.3 billion on a project that is going to supply your customers with electricity for 30-40 years or longer, obviously, long term planning is probably there. I think it is an advantage for them to be forward thinking into what they may develop for the future.”