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Nevada County Picayune-Times - Prescott, AR
  • Turk Plant dedication honors namesake's vision

  • Retired Southwestern Electric Power Co. business employee Elizabeth Stephens told an audience of more than 400 local residents, power company employees, state and local officials Wednesday that the late John W. Turk, Jr., would have only one word to say about the new $2 billion facility named in his honor: “Outstanding.”
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  • Retired Southwestern Electric Power Co. business employee Elizabeth Stephens told an audience of more than 400 local residents, power company employees, state and local officials Wednesday that the late John W. Turk, Jr., would have only one word to say about the new $2 billion facility named in his honor: “Outstanding.” Stephens recalled how that Turk, as president of what is now AEP/SWEPCO, used the single word to describe a job well done. She said he was a man of few, but well-chosen words, who would have been delighted to have seen the new plant and its ultra-supercritical coal firing process put into operation in December, 2012. Stephens was joined by AEP/SWEPCO executives and current and former employees to honor the memory of the man who brought SWEPCO into the era of coal-fired power plant generation, likely saving the company at a time when natural gas-fired power generation was becoming too expensive. “He was so excited to have been so honored,” SWEPCO President Venita McCellon-Allen. “And, he said, 'I only hope to live to see the plant's dedication. Unfortunately, as you and I know, we lost Mr. Turk.” But, as each member of the AEP/SWEPCO team recalled during the ceremonies at the University of Arkansas Community College at Hope's Hempstead Hall, Turk was not one to dwell on personal accolades. American Electric Power Co. Chairman Mike Morris called the siting of the plant in Hempstead County, “a great decision for all of us.” Morris commended the efforts of local, state, and national leaders connected with Hempstead County in bringing the project to fruition. “Our job is to build facilities like this as cost-effectively as we can,” he said. “The political support of these mayors and other elected officials gave us is greatly appreciated.” He credited McCellon-Allen and her executive team at SWEPCO at the time with “making a pretty solid decision.” “Electricity is the lifeblood of this economy and the creativity of this country, and we are very proud to be with you,” Morris said. Turk began his career with SWEPCO as a student machinist, according to the dedicatory plaque which will now hang at the entrance to the plant's operations center. “He progressed through a variety of roles, including Manager of Production, Vice President and Superintendent of Power before serving as SWEPCO's President from 1983 to 1988,” the text of the marker states. “A man of vision, he pioneered the Company's necessary fuel shift from natural gas to coal in the 1970s, when he crafted the nation's first electric utility contracts for Powder River Basin coal.” Turk later added lignite to the power fueling mix for SWEPCO, putting the company among the lowest cost service providers in the nation. That knack for innovation carried through in the design of the Turk Plant, which AEP President/CEO Nick Akins said “works like a top.” “It has been a labor of love,” Akins said of the seven years during which the plant was in design, regulatory and construction phases. “It's interesting to see how many people have come and gone in that seven years, including Mr. Turk, and Mrs. Turk.” But, Akin said the project not only follows a tradition that has been part of the AEP story for the 106-year history of the company, but it also represents a first for the company with the ultra-supercritical firing process. “It's better than any other coal plant of its capacity; it means less fuel, less carbon emissions, which you hear about all the time,” he said. “As a matter of fact, I was just in an international conference in San Diego, with Europeans, Japanese, the Australians, and much of the discussion in Europe is about how to get away from coal; but, I wasn't able to stay for the climate change discussion, as I mentioned, because I had to leave to go dedicate a coal plant.” That brought a round of laughter from the audience, but it added an exclamation point to the proceedings, which reflected upon the fight to get the plant built and the local support to bring it to Hempstead County. Arkansas Lieutenant Governor Mark Darr said his first visit to the Turk site left him “blown away.” “I was blown away by the employment of local people; but, I was also blown away by the investment risk that these companies took on Arkansas,” Darr said. “For me to come here, today, was a no-brainer, because these jobs mean a better way of life for Arkansas.” Hope Mayor Dennis Ramsey recounted part of the local story of the Turk Plant. “We came together when we saw this $2 billion capital investment coming to Southwest Arkansas,” Ramsey said. “There were lots of highs and lows, peaks and valleys to overcome.” But, Ramsey said the realization of the largest capital investment in Arkansas in his lifetime was somewhat like Mark Twain's observation of the man carrying a cat by the tail. “He really didn't know what to do with it; and, we really didn't know what to do with it,” Ramsey said. But, Ramsey said that, with a united legislative front in then-State Representative David “Bubba” Powers, of Hope, former State Senator Steve Harrelson, of Texarkana, and current State Senator Larry Teague, of Nashville, the project had “the voices we needed coming out of Little Rock.” “But, even before Turk, Hope and SWEPCO have been good friends, as Hope has been a wholesale customer of SWEPCO since the mid '80s,” Ramsey said. Former Congressman Mike Ross, of Prescott and Little Rock, a potential candidate for governor next year, said the Turk Plant was an example of the balanced approach to energy policy application which Arkansas and the nation needs. “As we think about it, we're here today to celebrate the $2 billion investment in Arkansas and the jobs that come with it,” Ross said. “We celebrate the achievements that have made the Turk Plant the cleanest, most efficient, coal-fueled plant in the United States. We are here to celebrate the journey Arkansas has made to become one of the nation's top energy leaders.” Ross said the partners in the project advanced the idea of bringing coal-fired electrical generation into the clean energy era. “It will produce fewer emissions than traditional coal plants around the nation,” he said. “I want to thank SWEPCO for this very important investment in the people of Southwest Arkansas.” That investment, he said, began in 2008 with the endowment of a $1 million scholarship fund for the Power Plant Technology Program at the University of Arkansas Community College at Hope. “Strong companies depend upon strong communities and our state's network of community colleges,” Ross said. Powers recalled how his legislative efforts in behalf of the project was likely the most important of his tenure in the Arkansas House of Representatives, comparing it to the life of the title character from the film “Jeremiah Johnson.” He said that, at the end of the film, many years after the idealistic young Johnson had left city life and become a mountain man, that his mentor, a much older mountain man asked him, “Were it worth the trouble?” “And, I remember that Jeremiah Johnson thought on that a moment, and said, 'What trouble?,'” Powers said. “I don't care about the trouble; what we have here, today, is a bunch of winners. Who won? Well, the kids in the Hope and Mineral Springs schools, the ratepayers, the 2,000 construction workers we had out there. Were it worth the trouble? I say it was.”

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