By Mel Coleman, CEO of North Arkansas Electric Cooperative
Since 1939, North Arkansas Electric Cooperative has provided our members with reliable and affordable electricity. That mission is getting more difficult due to many factors that, sadly, are outside of our distribution co-op’s control. I’m talking about higher fuel costs caused by increased demand for natural gas, which is a publicly traded commodity; coal plant closures due to governmental regulations and litigation from environmental groups; railroad manipulation of coal deliveries to generating plants; lack of investment in new nuclear generation; and a growing reliance on intermittent generation resources, such as solar and wind. Our members can see the volatility of the energy markets play out in the high power cost adjustments on their statements the past year. This line item is how NAEC adjusts for the increase or decrease in the cost of generating fuels and expensive market purchases of power. Thanks in large part to the natural gas market, these costs change rapidly, especially during extreme weather. Rather than changing the co-op’s base kWh rate every month, we use this line to pass on either additional costs or savings to members. All but one month in the past year it has been a charge due to increased fuel costs our wholesale power provider Arkansas Electric Cooperative Corporation had to pay. The United States cannot just stop building power plants and/or shutdown perfectly good plants and not expect increased energy costs and curtailments, or temporary rolling blackouts, to be a possibility. If we want reliable, affordable electricity, then the madness of shuttering our power plants must stop. Attacks from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency have been under way for 20 years, and they’re working – to the detriment of the average Arkansan. Wind and solar have a role in a diverse generation mix, but they are intermittent resources not constantly available. In time, and with new technology, they will provide much more reliable power. However, shutting down perfectly good baseload– available 24/7 – generation, such as coal-fired and natural gas plants, lacks common sense. The current situation will only get worse with Entergy Arkansas agreeing to shut down two coal plants in 2028 and 2030 on which Arkansans rely. Those coal plants going offline will contribute to increased energy costs and decreased reliability for all of us in the state. One of the worst decisions the U.S. made was halting construction of nuclear power plants. Extremists and government regulation stopped that. Nuclear and responsible coal generation need to be back on the table, or we’ll be living with higher and higher energy bills as well as regular threats of rolling blackouts during periods of bitter cold or sweltering heat. Without a focus on baseload generation resources of nuclear, natural gas and coal, then reliability and affordability will be a thing of the past — if it isn’t already. NAEC and other electric co-ops will continue to advocate for a balanced mix of generation. We could use our members’ help by making your voices heard.
Mel Coleman is CEO of North Arkansas Electric Cooperative, a distribution cooperative serving more than 38,000 member accounts.