This is the fourth 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


Climate crisis. Greenhouse gas. Carbon footprint. They’re common phrases in media coverage and discussions about environmental issues, and we can expect to hear them a lot this month.

April 22 is Earth Day, a time to focus on ecological awareness. It’s also a fitting opportunity for the Electric Cooperatives of Arkansas — with a mission of providing energy that is Reliable, Affordable and Responsible — to discuss the responsibility component.

How does electricity affect the planet?
An article titled “Energy and the Environment” on the website of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) points out, “All forms of electricity generation have an environmental impact on our air, water and land.”

Yes, all forms. While dispatchable or baseload sources of power like coal and natural gas get the most scrutiny for carbon emissions, even intermittent or “renewable” resources can have adverse effects on the planet. For example, solar arrays require large amounts of land and can disrupt ecosystems. Wind turbines contribute to noise pollution and similarly can disturb wildlife habitat.

So, from an environmental perspective — as well as reliability, affordability and responsibility standpoints — no single source of electricity generation is perfect. This is why the Electric Cooperatives of Arkansas support a Balance of Power and why Arkansas Electric Cooperative Corporation (AECC) — the generation and transmission cooperative supplying wholesale power to Arkansas’ 17 member cooperatives — maintains a diverse portfolio of generation resources.

Does AECC comply with environmental regulations?
According to Stephen Cain, AECC director of compliance and support, some of AECC’s facilities are subject to at least 20 major federal rules that are mandated by the EPA, including requirements of the Clean Air Act and the Clean Water Act.

“For air emissions, our fossil-based units are required to use Continuous Emission Monitoring Systems (CEMS), and those essentially monitor and record emissions from our power plants,” Cain said. That data is submitted to the EPA quarterly.

He continued, “For water discharges and wastewater discharges, plant operators and plant staff obtain water samples routinely. The samples are analyzed to ensure that AECC is in compliance with wastewater discharge permits.” Such information is regularly submitted to the Arkansas Division of Environmental Quality (ADEQ).

AECC Chief Operations Officer Jonathan Oliver said, “AECC is subject to many environmental rules and regulations. And we monitor continuously to make sure that we stay in compliance with those rules. So, we are very responsible with our power production and operational processes.”

Has the electric industry made any progress in terms of lowering emissions?
“They’ve come down quite a bit,” Cain said about levels. Since 1995, he said that sulfur dioxide (SO2) emissions are down about 90%, nitrogen oxide (NOx) emissions are down 85%, and even carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions are down 25% nationally.

And Cain said he expects the progress to continue.

“When newer generation plants come online and replace older facilities, the newer plants will be more efficient, and they’ll also have additional environmental controls,” he said.

Oliver agreed, offering an analogy, “It’s just like our cars, right? I remember as a kid, you didn’t have catalytic converters,” to reduce pollutants. “And now they are an industry standard.”

While the power industry has made and continues to make significant strides, the EPA continues to propose rules with unrealistic and unachievable timelines, threatening the reliability of the electric grid, Oliver added.

How would recently proposed federal rules impact AECC and the power industry?
Cain said proposed EPA rules, which require technology and infrastructure that doesn’t exist and require considerable financial investment, are unworkable, given the proposed time restraints.

“Regarding an EPA greenhouse gas rule that was proposed in 2023 and expected to be finalized in April 2024, coal operators are going to have to decide how much longer they can operate those units if they’re able to go past 2030,” he said. He continued that coal plant operators would have to limit operation or “begin co-firing with natural gas and maybe even installing carbon capture, which is a technology that is being developed, but it’s not ready for prime time.”

As for natural gas plants, Cain said, “They’re going to be required to begin co-firing with clean hydrogen in 2032, or they may also have to install the carbon capture and sequestration technology in 2035. These technologies are not currently available, and I don’t think they’re going to be for many, many years. They will also be very expensive.” Clean hydrogen is expected to cost as much as $60/MMBtu; compare that with your electric bill today, with natural gas charges of $2-$3/MMBtu.

Furthermore, Cain explained some emission control modifications contribute to lessening plants’ output, resulting in a need for additional power generation resources.

These proposed rules come as electric utilities are already facing serious challenges keeping up with an increased demand for power at a time when federal mandates are decreasing reliable power supply. A primary factor is the premature closure of dispatchable generation facilities.

In March of 2021, a federal court approved the settlement agreement between the Sierra Club and Entergy Arkansas, LLC to, among other things, permanently cease combustion of coal at two coal plants co-owned by Entergy and AECC. White Bluff Steam Electric Station in Redfield and Independence Steam Electric Station near Newark have announced retirement dates of 2028 and 2030, respectively. In this settlement, Entergy also agreed to reduce certain emissions at these plants and develop 800 MW in renewable energy projects by 2027. While AECC was not a party to this settlement, it is a co-owner of these plants and will be impacted by the operation of them as a result of the settlement.

How is AECC responding to proposed federal rules?
Cain said AECC, as well as other industry groups, including the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association (NRECA) and electric cooperatives across the United States have filed concerns with the EPA.

“When these rules are developed and they’re proposed, there is a public comment period — it’s part of the public process,” he said. “That’s an opportunity for anyone in the public to make their voices heard.“

Oliver agreed. “It’s a great time now to let people know, ‘Hey, we appreciate reliable, affordable electricity, and we want to keep it that way.’”

While the comment period for the proposed greenhouse gas rule has ended, AECC will continue to review and respond to new environmental rules and regulations that are proposed that could impact our mission of being Reliable, Affordable and Responsible.