The Sierra Club today said new data shows a sharp drop — 30 percent year to year — in operating time at Entergy’s two big coal-fired power plants in Arkansas.

The Sierra Club’s analysis of the drop at White Bluff and Independence plants:


“The dramatic drop in usage for White Bluff and Independence is a clear sign that these older plants are in real trouble,” said David Schlissel, Director of Resource Planning Analysis for IEEFA. “Around the country, as natural gas, wind and solar power have become more affordable, coal-burning plants are being used less and less. This trend is likely to continue in Arkansas with multiple solar and wind energy projects breaking ground. It may soon make economic sense to retire these two older, dirtier facilities in favor of cleaner, less expensive options.”

I’ve asked Entergy for a response. The business community point of view — shared by members of the Arkansas congressional delegation and Attorney General Leslie Rutledge, particularly — is that coal is good. They say proposed new clean air rules are bad for business and bad for Arkansas. Might it be, as Ernest Dumas has written several times, that the world is changing no matter how much Arkansas resists? It’s happened before.

UPDATE: This response from Sally Graham at Entergy:


Being able to meet the energy requirements of customers whenever they need it is what we call reliability and that’s a benefit renewables can’t provide alone.

Natural-gas generation could be used to replace the coal plants and Entergy Arkansas has made substantial investments in recent years to acquire over 1,600 MW of modern highly efficient natural-gas fired resources. These gas-fired resources add to the diversity of Entergy Arkansas’ generation portfolio. Replacing 1600 MGW of generation is a complex prospect that takes careful planning to maintain grid reliability while supporting the economic development opportunities in Arkansas. Having a diverse generation portfolio allows us to plan responsibly while responding to changes in the marketplace. 

This means that Entergy Arkansas’ customers enjoy having the ability to choose the lowest cost fuel to produce the electricity they use. When the price of gas is low, like it currently is, the gas-fired plants operate at a high capacity factor. When the price of gas is high, like it was only a couple of years ago, the coal plants operate at a high capacity factor. Just because the coal plants are currently operating at a low capacity factor doesn’t mean they are less valuable. Natural gas is a bargain today so we’ll use it. All bargains end though and at some point the price of gas will increase. When it does, Entergy Arkansas’ customers are not captive to it and can quit using it because the coal plants are available to them. The coal plants provide an economic source of insurance against increases in the price of natural gas.

Entergy Arkansas has entered a power purchase agreement for the largest utility-scale solar project in the state. The energy generated and supplied from the solar facility will reduce the demand for energy from other, primarily fossil fueled, generation resources. The facility is expected to be online no later than mid-2019 and will produce enough clean energy to power approximately 13,000 homes.

The Entergy Arkansas generation portfolio is one of the cleanest in the country, 69 percent emissions-free nuclear in 2015, 24 percent natural gas and 4 percent coal. This solar plant will enhance that position.