Southwestern Electric Power

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Southwestern Electric Power Company (SWEPCO) is a subsidiary of American Electric Power since 2000 and serves 473,500 customers in Louisiana, Arkansas, and East Texas. Its headquarters are in Shreveport, Louisiana.[1]

Existing Coal Plants

Plant State Year(s) Built Capacity
Flint Creek Power Plant TX 1978 558 MW
H.W. Pirkey Power Plant TX 1985 721 MW
Welsh Power Plant TX 1977, 1980, 1982 1,674 MW


Early Years

SWEPCO was founded on June 29, 1912, when it was incorporated in Delaware as the Southwestern Gas and Electric Co. from the consolidation of three utility companies: Shreveport Gas, Electric Light and Power Co.; Caddo Gas and Oil Co.; and Texarkana Gas and Electric Co. In 1923 the company bought gas plants and distribution facilities in Beaumont, Texas, and in Pass Christian, Biloxi, and Gulfport, all on the Mississippi Gulf Coast, and in 1924 the company acquired the Shreveport Natural Gas Co. In 1925 the company was sold to Middle West, the holding company of Central and South West Utilities Co. (CSWUC), itself incorporated by energy moguls Samuel and Martin Insull in 1925 as a holding company designed to absorb Southwestern and four other subsidiaries then servicing Texas, Kansas, Arkansas, Oklahoma, and Kansas. CSWUC would eventually be reorganized as the Central and South West Corporation, or CSW.[2]

During the boom years before the Great Depression, Southwestern expanded and realigned its structure through additional acquisition and some divestment. Between 1926 and 1928 it procured properties in southwest Arkansas from Central Power and Light Co., in northeast Texas from subsidiaries of American Public Service Co., and in northwest Arkansas from Southwest Power Co. In 1928 it sold all its oil and gas properties in Arkansas, Texas, and Louisiana. In 1930, it also sold off electricity-producing properties in Bartlesville, Oklahoma, acquired two years earlier.[2]

Although Southwestern held gas-processing plants in Mississippi until 1943, when it sold them to United Gas Corporation, by 1928 the company had virtually ended business as a natural gas provider in its primary tri-state area of operations in Texas, Arkansas, and Louisiana, concentrating instead on electricity as an energy supplier. This focus was partly prompted by Samuel Insull's belief that electrical appliances would play a major part in the growth of the utility companies under his control. Among other things, he authorized the sale of such appliances through Middle West's subsidiaries and established training and information services to teach women the benefits of electrification and to demonstrate appliance use.[2]

Although the Great Depression hit most investor-owned utility companies very hard, Southwestern managed not just to survive but even to prosper some, primarily because large oil deposits were discovered near Henderson, Texas, within its geographic area. Southwestern had the monumental but lucrative task of constructing new pipelines to service the burgeoning oil and gas industries.[2]

After the Depression, CSWUC, and its parent holding company, Middle West, were facing the prospect of federally mandated divestitures in compliance with the Public Utility Holding Company Act of 1935 and its stipulation that utility holding companies could provide only one type of energy free of intermediate holding-company levels. By 1944 the Securities and Exchange Commission ordered Middle West to sell off many of its holdings.[2]

CSWUC remained but each subsidiary was required to divest of some properties and services. Southwestern Gas and Electric, the future SWEPCO, had to sell its own subsidiary, the Southwest Arkansas Utilities Corporation, which has been transferred to the company in the intricate reorganization plan devised by the Insulls in 1925. However the company rebounded with the increasing demands for electrical power in the economic boom beginning at the end of World War II: refrigerators, freezers, televisions, air conditioners, and other modern conveniences found their way from the marketplace into the homes of working-class Americans.[2]

Move to Coal in the Postwar Era

The building boom of postwar decades and the tremendous growth of the oil and gas industry in Texas and Oklahoma helped CSW, then SWEPCO's parent company, reach almost $200 million in annual sales by 1958. That year Southwestern Gas and Electric changed its name to Southwestern Electric Power Co. Foreseeing the likelihood of a diminishing supply of the cheap natural gas, in the early 1970s SWEPCO elected to rely on coal in its future expansion.[2]

SWEPCO started building coal-fueled electrical power plants. Two went into service in the late 1970s, at Welsh in east Texas and Flint Creek in northwest Arkansas. At first, SWEPCO relied on low-sulfur coal purchased from Wyoming mines. Then, in the 1980s, the firm began building lignite-powered plants, using the low-grade brown coal found in abundant deposits in northern Texas and Louisiana, within the company's own service area. The Pirkey Power Plant in Texas was completed in 1985, and the Dolet Hills Power Station in Louisiana, which went on line in 1986. SWEPCO built Dolet Hills, while Central Louisiana Electric Company (Cleco) operates the plant and both companies share equally in the power produced from its single 640,000-kilowatt unit.[3]

In 2000 Southwestern Electric Power Company merged with American Electric Power in 2000 and became AEP Southwestern Electric Power Company (Swepco).[4]

SWEPCO's Welsh Plan to close Unit 1

AEP announced in June 2011 that they were slating to close Unit 2 of the Welsh Plant, generating 528 megawatts (MW) of power to be retired by Dec. 31, 2014; and Units 1 and 3 (1,056 MW) would continue to operate with scrubber retrofits.[5][6]

Coal waste

Pirkey ranked 73rd on list of most polluting power plants in terms of coal waste

In January 2009, Sue Sturgis of the Institute of Southern Studies compiled a list of the 100 most polluting coal plants in the United States in terms of coal combustion waste (CCW) stored in surface impoundments like the one involved in the TVA Kingston Fossil Plant coal ash spill.[7] The data came from the EPA's Toxics Release Inventory (TRI) for 2006, the most recent year available.[8]

Pirkey Power Plant ranked number 73 on the list, with 380,111 pounds of coal combustion waste released to surface impoundments in 2006.[7]

Flint Creek ranked 96th on list of most polluting power plants in terms of coal waste

In January 2009, Sue Sturgis of the Institute of Southern Studies compiled a list of the 100 most polluting coal plants in the United States in terms of coal combustion waste (CCW) stored in surface impoundments like the one involved in the TVA Kingston Fossil Plant coal ash spill.[7] The data came from the EPA's Toxics Release Inventory (TRI) for 2006, the most recent year available.[9]

Flint Creek Power Plant ranked number 96 on the list, with 221,456 pounds of coal combustion waste released to surface impoundments in 2006.[7]

Elevated levels of toxic hexavalent chromium found at Flint Creek plant

A report released by EarthJustice and the Sierra Club in early February 2011 stated that there are many health threats associated with a toxic cancer-causing chemical found in coal waste called hexavalent chromium. The report specifically cited 29 sites in 17 states where the contamination was found. The information was gathered from existing EPA data on coal ash and included locations in Alabama, Arkansas, Delaware, Florida, Illinois, Indiana, Minnesota, Massachusetts, North Carolina, North Dakota, Nevada, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Virgina and Wisconsin. In Arkansas, the Flint Creek Power Plant was noted as having a high level of chromium at its coal waste landfill.[10]

According to the report, the Flint Creek Power Plant Primary Bottom Ash Pond is a landfill. Hexavalent chromium (Cr(VI)) was reported at the site above 128 ppb (parts per billion) - 6,400 times the proposed California drinking water goals and 1.28 times the federal drinking water standard.[10]

As a press release about the report read:

Hexavalent chromium first made headlines after Erin Brockovich sued Pacific Gas & Electric because of poisoned drinking water from hexavalent chromium. Now new information indicates that the chemical has readily leaked from coal ash sites across the U.S. This is likely the tip of the iceberg because most coal ash dump sites are not adequately monitored.[11]

According to the report, the electric power industry is the leading source of chromium and chromium compounds released into the environment, representing 24 percent of releases by all industries in 2009.[10]

Proposed Texas and Arkansas Rate Hike

American Electric Power Co.'s (AEP) Texas Swepco utility filed a request in August 2009 with state regulators to raise rates by about 20%. Swepco is asking the Texas' public utility commission for an additional $75 million through rates for infrastructure, ongoing operations, increased vegetation management, and ongoing financing costs related to power plant construction. The higher rates will allow Swepco to recover financing costs for two power plant projects, the John W. Turk Jr. plant in Arkansas and the J. Lamar Stall unit in Louisiana.[12] As of September 2009 Swepco is also requesting a rate increase of 17-20% for Arkansas.[13]

Proposed coal plants

John W. Turk Jr. Power Plant

AEP SWEPCO is proposing to build a coal-fueled power plant in Hempstead County, Arkansas, about 15 miles northeast of Texarkana. The John W. Turk, Jr. Power Plant would provide baseload power (operating 24 hours a day) to SWEPCO customers in Arkansas, Louisiana and Texas. SWEPCO will own 73 percent (about 440 megawatts) of the $1.6 billion, 600-megawatt plant. SWEPCO’s share of the plant’s cost will be allocated, on the basis of electric load, among customers in Arkansas, Louisiana, and Texas.[14]

The expected completion date is late 2012. However, while the plant received regulatory approval in Arkansas, Louisiana, and Texas in 2007-2008, approval of the plant and the process used by the Arkansas Public Service Commission was overturned by the Arkansas Court of Appeals in June 2009. SWEPCO and the APSC have asked the Arkansas Supreme Court to review the case.[14]

Citizen Action Against John W. Turk Jr. Power Plant

On July 20, 2010 two environmental organizations asked a federal judge to halt construction of the $1.7 billion John W. Turk coal-fired power plant that is to supply power to electric customers in Arkansas, Louisiana and Texas.

The two groups, Audubon Arkansas and the Sierra Club said construction of the Southwestern Electric Power Co. plant was destroying pristine wetlands. Owners of a hunting club near the plant site sued previously to stop construction, also on environmental grounds.[15]

Articles and Resources

Related SourceWatch Articles


  1. "Swepco Info Swepco Website, September 2009.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 2.5 2.6 "Southwestern Electric Power Co." Funding Universe, September 2009.
  3. "Swepco History" Swepco Website, September 2009.
  4. "Swepco History" Swepco Website, September 2009.
  5. "Welsh Power Plant unit slated for closure " Marica Davis-Seale, The Daily Tribune, June 11, 2011.
  6. "AEP Could Close Kammer Plant" J.W. Johnson Jr, The Intelligencer, June 10, 2011.
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 7.3 Sue Sturgis, "Coal's ticking timebomb: Could disaster strike a coal ash dump near you?," Institute for Southern Studies, January 4, 2009.
  8. TRI Explorer, EPA, accessed January 2009.
  9. TRI Explorer, EPA, accessed January 2009.
  10. 10.0 10.1 10.2 "EPA’s Blind Spot: Hexavalent Chromium in Coal Ash" Earthjustice & Sierra Club, February 1, 2011.
  11. "Coal ash waste tied to cancer-causing chemicals in water supplies" Alicia Bayer,, February 1, 2011.
  12. "American Electric Pwr Requests 20% Rate Hike At Texas Utility", August 28, 2009.
  13. "Swepco Seeks Arkansas Rate Increase" Swepco Website, September 2009.
  14. 14.0 14.1 "Swepco Turk Plant" Swepco Website, September 2009.
  15. "Sierra Club, Audubon sue to stop SWEPCO plant" Business Week, July 19, 2010.

External Articles

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