EDITORIAL: Surprised at APSC response to questions raised about conflict

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Editor's note: Following is a letter that raises the issue of the perceived and apparent conflict of interest between leaders and staff at the Arkansas Public Service Commission and Southwest Power Pool, which is the organization that oversees utilities in our region and that ordered SWEPCO to build its mega-power line in Carroll County. Below that are our own additional informational tidbits and comments.

Dear Editor,

I was surprised to read the comments made by Arkansas Public Service Commission Director John Bethel (in response to recent questions being raised about a possible conflict of interest between APSC officials and Southwest Power Pool) in which Bethel stated that there is no relationship between SPP and the APSC commissioners. "I am not a member of the SPP, nor are any of the three commissioners here," he said. Bethel noted that Commissioner Reeves serves on the SPP Regional State Committee, and Chairman Honorable previously served as the APSC representative on the RSC.

So serving on the SPP Regional State Committee is not being a member of SPP?

The SPP website shows the members of the SPP Regional State Committee, with a picture of Paul Suskie, staff secretary, and a list of members that includes Olan Reeves, current APSC Commissioner. See http://www.spp.org/committee_detail.asp?commID=35.

At a time when the APSC will decide the future of the Ozarks, I would not want to upset APSC. I prefer to believe APSC for the first time will deny the SWEPCO application in full. No route is acceptable.

I would like to believe APSC will protect the long-term benefit of the people of Arkansas. My concern is not only about transmission lines, but about the economy of Arkansas, the second-poorest state in the nation. We can create high-paying solar energy jobs and profitable business opportunities for Arkansas, following the example of Germany, the world leader in distributed solar power.

My concern with SPP is that member companies use a central energy generation model relying on transmission lines for power distribution that dates back to Nicola Tesla in 1800s. Today, we have leaner solutions that are simple, safe, reliable, scalable, affordable with PV silicone plug-in modules. A reliable grid is an oxymoron. One more transmission line will increase cost and complexity.

With $120 million dollars, we could install solar grid-tie panels for every household in Carroll County and double the electric capacity with full reliability. That is the dream of the Ozarks, and it is the only way to stop the AEP threat -- a clear and present danger.

Using SWEPCO's gridSMART program, we would have a Win-Win solution. SWEPCO could own the solar panels, just like they own the grid, and we could lease roof-top systems. Solar City Leasing and other companies offer these programs for profit in states where residential accounts are allowed to sell power to the grid. See http://www.solarcity.com/residential/solar-lease.aspx.

-- Dr. Luis Contreras

Eureka Springs


* * *

Editor's note: We, too, are surprised by Bethel's response, given the following tidbits of information, all found on Southwest Power Pool's own website search of member rolls at www.spp.org:

* Arkansas Public Service Commissioner Olan Reeves is listed as a member of SPP;

* Commissioner Colette Honorable is listed as a member of SPP;

* APSC Director John Bethel is listed as a member of SPP;

* Former APSC Chairman Lavenski R. Smith is listed as a member of SPP;

* Former APSC Commissioner Randy Bynum is listed as a member of SPP;

* APSC Chief Engineer Clark Cotten is listed as a member of SPP;

* APSC Chief Economist Keith Berry is listed as a member of SPP;

* APSC Electric Section Director Diana Brenske is listed as a member of SPP;

* APSC General Counsel Valerie Boyce is listed as a member of SPP;

* APSC General Counsel Mary Cochran is listed as a member of SPP;

* APSC Policy Analyst Richard House is listed as a member of SPP;

* APSC Senior Policy Analyst - Electric LouAnn Westerfield is listed as a member of SPP;

* APSC employee Randy Hightower is listed as a member of SPP;

* APSC employee Donna Gray is listed as a member of SPP;

* APSC employee Pat Mosier is listed as a member of SPP;

* APSC employee Dave Slaton is listed as a member of SPP; and

* APSC employee Ted Thomas is listed as a member of SPP.

Lord knows this list may not be exhaustive, but we believe it's plenty to show that the Public Service Commission is a little (a lot!) too cozy with one of the bodies it governs.

It's called a conflict of interest. And here it exists. We, like many SWEPCO opponents, call on Gov. Mike Beebe and Attorney General Dustin McDaniel to put an end to the state's top utility decision-makers consorting so closely with one of the power organizations it regulates, however indirectly.

Such a conflict of interest in government should not be allowed, and it certainly shouldn't be tolerated silently by those whose lives will be drastically and even possibly harmfully affected by such decision-makers.

So we ask: Gov. Beebe and AG McDaniel, what are you going to do about this?

* * *

To speak out about this issue and voice your concerns, send a copy of this article with your own input as well to the Governor and the Attorney General at the following addresses:

Gov. Mike Beebe

Constituent Services

State Capitol

Room 250

Little Rock, AR 72201


Email: tonya.mercer@governor.arkansas.gov

Attorney General Dustin McDaniel

323 Center St., Suite 200

Little Rock, AR 72201