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Clean Air advocates fly “Move Beyond Coal” message over Oklahoma City during OG&E shareholders meeting

Nancy Zorn (speaking), a Sierra Club volunteer and OG&E shareholder, says she thinks a better long-term option is to retire its oldest and dirtiest plants and invest in clean energy. Photo by Bob Gurfinkel

By Darla Shelden
Contributing Writer

The Sierra Club recently sent a message to Oklahoma Gas & Electric (OG&E) that they feel it is time to move Oklahoma beyond coal. Recently, on the morning of OG&E’S annual shareholders meeting, Sierra Club commissioned a plane to fly over downtown Oklahoma City with a banner reading “OG&E – Move Beyond Coal.”

OG&E is Oklahoma’s largest electric generator and operates two coal-fired plants, the Muskogee plant and the Sooner generation station, in Red Rock.

Whitney Pearson, Organizer for Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal Campaign contends that the two plants lack modern pollution controls, pump harmful emissions into Oklahoma’s air, and prevent the state from moving toward clean energy solutions.

“We are calling on OG&E to make a strong commitment to the health and economy of Oklahoma: move beyond coal,” said Pearson. “Public Service Company of Oklahoma (PSO) made a commitment to retire the Northeastern coal plant just last month in order to cut their air pollution. OG&E is considering right now whether to install pollution controls that will keep us chained to dirty coal power for decades, or whether to follow PSO’s lead and retire the oldest, dirtiest coal plants in the state. We think the right choice is clear.”

The Northeastern plant, near Oologah, is the 107th coal plant to retire since the Beyond Coal campaign began in 2002. Currently, Oklahoma has six coal-fired power plants in operation.

“Approximately 2500 megawatts of our electricity is generated by coal today, said Brian Alford, OG&E’s director of communications and community relations. “To retire those plants means that we have to make up that generation with another source. If you don’t use coal then you’re limited to natural gas or nuclear energy. Of course we have renewables, but it’s not realistic to expect renewables to generate the amount of energy that our customers need, especially in the summer when it’s 110 degrees.

Coal plants contribute numerous types of health-threatening pollution, including smog and mercury. In 2008 the World Health Organization reported that coal particulates pollution cause approximately one million deaths annually worldwide, including nearly 24,000 lives a year in the United States.

In 2011, Oklahoma City and Tulsa had seriously unhealthy levels of smog pollution, adding to the risk of asthma, reduced lung function, and other respiratory illness. Statistics cited by the Sierra Club show nearly 80,000 children and more than 230,000 adults are currently living with asthma in Oklahoma. In 2007, hospitalizations from asthma cost Oklahoma citizens $57.9 million in health care costs and time away from work.

Sierra Club is working to highlight the frequency and impact of high-ozone, or high-smog, pollution days in Tulsa and Oklahoma City via their new website,

“We have a plan to use more natural gas in our generation fleet reducing coal and meeting EPA standards for both visibility and health and to do so in a fashion that does not have a catastrophic affect on our customers,” said Alford. “We have to be good stewards of both cost and of the environment, which is paramount to us.”

“I believe that OG&E relies too heavily on coal-fired power,” said Nancy Zorn, a Sierra Club volunteer and OG&E shareholder. “Coal isn’t cheap when you add in all the healthcare costs and costs from pollution. OG&E will need to reduce its pollution under the Clean Air Act, and as a shareholder, I believe the better long-term option is to retire its oldest and dirtiest plants and invest in clean energy instead. If OG&E chooses to retrofit its plants, ratepayers will be footing the bill for decades to come.”

“Our goal is to insure that we remain in compliance with all EPA rules, and if that requires scrubbers, that’s what will do. But you’re looking at well over a billion dollars in investment that will result in the largest rate increase in our 110 year history,” said Alford.

According to a recent report from the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA), more than 2,000 megawatts (MW) of wind power are online in Oklahoma, with more than 15,000 MW of wind projects waiting to be built and brought online. The report also states that wind power has created more than 2,000 direct and indirect jobs, and will create more as additional wind turbines are built, shipped, and installed. Long-term prices for wind power are low and stable, unlike fossil fuels.

“Wind power today is cost-competitive with coal and gas,” said David Ocamb, Director of the Oklahoma Chapter of the Sierra Club. “Fortune favors the bold. Now is the time for OG&E to show bold leadership and move beyond coal by making a major investment in wind energy. Everyone – the shareholders, Oklahoma’s citizens, and our state government – wins when wind powers Oklahoma and our neighbors.”

“The better option for everyone is to retire coal plants and build clean, home-grown energy in Oklahoma,” said Zorn.

Sierra Club is the largest grassroots environmental organization in the country, with more than 1.3 million members and supporters. The Beyond Coal Campaign has successfully prevented 168 new coal plants from being built and has secured the retirement of 110 plants nationwide.

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