MuskogeePhoenix.com, Muskogee, OK

Oklahoma News

May 18, 2013

State AG sought to delay Monday’s regional haze hearing

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt has asked the state’s environmental agency to delay a hearing Monday on a new plan by Tulsa-based utility Public Service Co. of Oklahoma to deal with regional haze.

But Oklahoma Department of Environmental Quality officials said the hearing will proceed as planned at 1 p.m. Monday in Oklahoma City.

Pruitt sent a letter to the department on Wednesday outlining his concerns over a revised state implementation plan for limiting power plant emissions affecting visibility at federal parks and wilderness areas.

In his letter, Pruitt said new information about PSO’s future power requirements could affect cost estimates for its revised implementation plan for regional haze. PSO wants to phase out the last two coal units at its Northeastern Station plant by 2026.

PSO earlier estimated the plan would cost more than $350 million and increase customer rates by at least 11 percent starting in 2016. A group of large industrial consumers estimates PSO’s plan could cost as much as six times more than a federal implementation plan for regional haze, The Oklahoman reports.

The utility has more than 530,000 electricity customers in eastern and southwestern Oklahoma.

The Department of Environmental Quality has been taking public comments on PSO’s revised regional haze plan since the hearing was announced April 18. The comment period will close at 3 p.m. Monday.

The plan came out of a settlement reached last year by PSO, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Sierra Club and Oklahoma Environment Secretary Gary Sherrer.

The attorney general’s office was expecting more information from PSO about its future demand growth and waited until Wednesday to send the letter urging a delay, said Pruitt spokeswoman Diane Clay.

“We decided we could no longer wait for PSO to file the plan and wrote a letter to express our office’s concerns about the lack of information, which could negatively affect utility consumers,” Clay said in an email.

The utility expects to submit information on its demand growth to the Corporation Commission by early June, said spokesman Stan Whiteford. PSO needs another 250 megawatts of capacity than it projected last year, a development stemming from additional oil and gas production in the state.

An attorney for PSO’s parent company, Ohio-based American Electric Power, said in a letter Friday that Pruitt’s request for a delay wasn’t appropriate because the plan’s costs for ratepayers should be evaluated by the Corporation Commission. The utility’s updated resource plan wouldn’t provide much insight into the environmental plan before the department, said Janet Henry, AEP’s deputy general counsel.

The environmental compliance plan calls for PSO to retire its last two Oklahoma coal units at the Northeastern Station plant near Oologah. PSO plans to shut down one coal unit in 2016. It would install equipment to limit emissions on the other coal unit before retiring it by 2026.

A separate hearing into how much ratepayers should pay for the costs of PSO’s regional haze plan has been stayed by the Oklahoma Corporation Commission until the environmental plan is approved.

Separately, Pruitt last year joined Oklahoma Gas and Electric Co. in an appeal over EPA’s disapproval of a state implementation plan for regional haze. That appeal is awaiting a ruling by the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver.

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