All Sales and No Shame for Co-op Coal Boosters

Climate Change Energy Policy Politics

Marble Falls     I read some of the opinion pieces that rural electric co-op leaders offer their members through their monthly combo-newsletters and ad-sheets.  I sometimes find myself scratching my head as I read these editorial-propaganda pieces.  I do so not necessarily because of what they are saying, but because of what they are deliberately avoiding saying, as they try to sell their readers on their approach and the status quo.

None of them are worse than Vernon “Buddy” Hasten, President and CEO of Arkansas Electric Cooperatives, Inc. and Arkansas Electric Cooperative Association.  He has devoted his last several columns to making the argument that in Arkansas they need to stay the course with what he calls a “diversity” or “balance” of fuel sources.  He underlines the fact that he’s taking aim at alternative energy sources in order to tout coal and nuclear.  All of this is masked in his concern about winter heating and the storms that hit the area in 2021 and more recently with 2022 Winter Storm Elliott.  As he says,

To put that in simpler terms, the concern is that there wouldn’t be enough power available to meet everyone’s needs in the winter.  This is particularly challenging in that nationally, we continue to see coal and nuclear plants shutdown to be replaced with intermittent resources like wind and solar.  This is a challenge because coal and nuclear plants are almost always available, whereas intermittent resources are subject to weather conditions.

Reading Hasten, it is clear that reliability and reserve power is in fact his only concern and sole priority.  Climate never gets a mention from Hasten.  Weather worries him, but the consensus on climate change seems unknown to him.  Of course, it isn’t really.  As a top REA executive, he knows climate change is an issue, but he’s not worried about telling the whole story, he is just trying to sell the members to support his “keep on, keeping on” policies in Arkansas.  Change of any kind, climate or whatever, is his enemy.  He’ll get calls and criticisms if there’s a power outage or rolling blackout in winter. If the planet burns up and Arkansas is filled with scorched earth and rising temperatures, that’s just not his concern.  His program is just keeping the lights on now, and someone down the line can handle the rest.

With even more gall, he tries to contrast his “diversity” approach with problems that bigger utilities faced in the winter storm, like TVA and Duke Power.  He cites their blackout problems without bothering to mention that both are still hugely dependent on coal and his diversity strategy.

  • At TVA, six coal-fired plants are in the Tennessee Valley. Fossil plants make up about 19 percent of the power TVA generates. TVA is the 6th largest power producer in the country and the 6th largest source of carbon emissions in the US.
  • At Duke Power, “Coal fuel represents about 27% of our generation portfolio.” Duke is the 1st largest US power producer, and the 1st largest source of carbon emissions in the US.

Unlike Hansen and the AEC in Arkansas, they understand they have a problem and that coal and climate are top concerns.  Duke on its website touts their decreasing dependence on coal.

Since 2010, we have retired 6,539 megawatts (MW) of energy from coal-fired units and invested in natural gas and renewable energy sources, while also maintaining reliability and rates below the national average.  By 2024, we will retire an additional 862 MW for a total of 7,401 MW retired from coal-fired generation. That will be about one-third of our former coal portfolio.

Hansen doesn’t want to mention that these are still companies that hugely rely on coal, yet they still had outages, because that would get in the way of his argument that we have to keep coal fires burning.  He’s not alone, of course, he’s also parroting the view of a whole lot of REC top executives.  In the top ten list of the power companies most carbon dependent, all of them were rural electric cooperatives!

Hansen doesn’t just want to shade the story to fit his sales strategy and personal job security, but he was to make sure he doesn’t break ranks with his buddies in the REC world.  Cooperatives are supposedly membership-run and dedicated, but there’s no way that these servings of half-truths and faux concerns, serve them well, either now or in the future.  Leaders need a vision forward, not Hansen’s commitment to nothing but the rearview mirror.