This is the fifth installment in a multipart series to educate electric cooperative members about power generation and the increased challenges facing electric utilities, including the Electric Cooperatives of Arkansas. To read more, visit

So far in our series, we’ve outlined several significant problems the power industry faces in protecting the reliability of the electric grid.

The demand for electric energy is greater than ever — at a time when reliable generation resources are being forced to retire. Many of these existing, reliable, dependable generation resources are being forced to retire ahead of their useful life, as a result of existing and proposed federal regulations. Some regulations require unproven technology that cannot be installed within the timelines proposed. This creates problems for utilities.

Still, for utilities like the Electric Cooperatives of Arkansas — with a mission of providing members with energy that is Reliable, Affordable and Responsible — power industry professionals must continue to press forward and work toward solutions to ensure that our lights stay on and our nation can continue to thrive.

“We’ve always considered emerging technologies to meet our demand needs,” says Jonathan Oliver, chief of operations for Arkansas Electric Cooperative Corp. (AECC), the wholesale power supplier for the state’s 17 local distribution cooperatives.

This installment will cover some of the energy innovations on the horizon, as well as their pros and cons.

An artist’s rendering of NuScale Power’s VOYGR small modular reactor (SMR) nuclear power plant.

“Renewable” Resources

What: Non-fossil, intermittent resources including, among others, solar and wind power.

Pros: Lower costs and emissions. AECC Vice President of Power Production Kollin Derynck says, “Initially, you’ve got what can be argued to be a fairly high production/construction/development cost associated with ‘renewables.’ But the big component that you eliminate is that variable cost of fuel.”

Still, as Oliver points out, power costs from “renewables” have been as low as some fossil-based resources only because of government subsidies.

Derynck says, “The other component to ‘renewables’ is you don’t have the same emissions. We’re not burning a fuel, and so we’re not emitting the carbons and the nitrogen oxides and the sulfur dioxides and so forth.”

Cons: Decreased reliability. Derynck says, “So now, I don’t have a fuel source to pull from, I really don’t have control over when I generate from those resources. We obviously don’t control when the wind blows or the sun shines. And so, it’s difficult for us to match our members’ demands with the generation from those types of resources.”

Another drawback: Solar and wind generation require about 10 times more land per unit of power than coal or natural gas plants.

The Woodruff County Solar project, AECC’s first utility-scale solar project, is a 122-megawatt (MW) solar array near Augusta.


What: Utility-scale (often called large-scale or grid-scale) batteries that can be connected to power-generation assets to store and deploy energy.

Pros: The technology could help with supply and demand by reserving energy and supplying it back to the grid when needed. Derynck says, “Storage would be a game changer.”

Cons: Limited duration and cost. Derynck  explains, while duration could improve over time, current battery technology only provides energy for up to 4 hours when conditions are ideal.

Oliver adds, “And that’s when it’s not zero degrees outside.” Extreme temperatures significantly impact a battery’s ability to perform.

Cost is another concern. “Batteries, like wind and solar, have no fuel cost, but they do have high installation costs and a power cost,” Oliver says. “The cost of electricity out of a battery system is the cost of power you put into it plus the cost of the battery. Ideally, one would charge batteries when power prices are low and discharge them when power prices are high, but sometimes that isn’t possible — for example during extreme weather events like Winter Storms Uri or Gerri. Batteries or other storage technology will be part of the future. The exact role they will play, and their benefits, are yet to be determined.”


What: Oliver explains, “Nuclear was a big player decades and decades ago. Since the early ’80s, only two new nuclear units have been built. The new units at Plant Votgle in Georgia cost more than double the original estimate and saw extensive schedule delays. But the United States continues to tout nuclear as a necessary technology to reduce carbon emissions. The promising nuclear technology garnering attention today is small modular reactors.” Small modular reactors (SMRs), as their names suggest, are smaller than traditional nuclear power reactors with about one-third of the generating capacity.

AECC’s Thomas B. Fitzhugh Generating Station, a natural gas plant in Ozark, can produce 170 megawatts (MW).

Pros: “Nuclear is clean, it’s safe, there are no carbon emissions, it’s reliable,” Oliver says.

Cons: Price and perception. As for cost, Derynck says, “Nuclear certainly is very expensive. It always has been. And so that continues to be an issue. We also haven’t seen anyone yet develop small modular nuclear. So, while it’s the hot topic and there’s a lot of discussion on it — it has some promise, some hope — no one’s really hit the ground running with it just yet.” Nuclear has long had a reputation of being dangerous. But Derynck says, “If you look at the safety performance and record of nuclear, it’s fantastic. It’s really better than other power generation resources, typically far, far safer than coal and natural gas plants. … There are a lot of safety mechanisms to make sure that happens. And the performance there is very good, despite maybe some of the public perception that’s out there.”

Natural Gas

What: Natural gas has become an increasingly important energy source across the United States and the world, accounting for as much as one-quarter of global electric generation.

Pros: Abundant, dispatchable and reliable, natural gas has lower emissions than other fossil fuels. New technologies make it even more promising. Derynck says, “We’re seeing what are called advanced class turbines that are larger in size and much more efficient than older technology. Efficiency is going up, emissions are coming down, and we’re able to produce more energy, so a lot of positive things there.”

And it’s a cleaner energy, Oliver says. “If you look at the atomic structure of natural gas, it has some hydrogen in it. … Right there, you cut your CO2 emissions in half just by using natural gas, and now you’re getting into some efficiencies with these new turbines that are really just incredible. They truly have the ability to significantly lower emissions, including carbon, today … and it’s proven, commercial technology.”

Cons: Market volatility for price and viability and reliance on pipelines.

Looking ahead

Because existing — and emerging — technologies have pros and cons, the best strategy to ensure Reliable, Affordable and Responsible energy is maintaining a diverse portfolio of generation resources. The Electric Cooperatives of Arkansas call this approach The Balance of Power.

“Due to a long-term Balance of Power strategy, our generation fleet has a mix of resources, from coal to natural gas to wind and solar and hydroelectric,” Oliver says. Still, two coal plants co-owned by AECC — White Bluff Steam Electric Station in Redfield and Independence Steam Electric Station near Newark — will be required to cease operations in 2028 and 2030 respectively.

Oliver continues, “As we look to bridge that gap, we’re primarily looking at natural gas because it has some characteristics that we need; it has capacity, it has that dispatchability. But we’re also considering, additional ‘renewables.’ Batteries are not quite there yet. Although you can get them today, they’re not as reliable as you think. They’re costly. Same with nuclear.

“Some of these new technologies are maybe years to decades in the future, but there’s promise out there.”