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Turk Plant dedication ceremony lauds technology, commitment, support

by on April 16, 2013
Aerial view of the John W. Turk, Jr. Power Plant in Southwestern Arkansas. Photo by John Harris.

(Story by Peter Main)

Speakers at the April 10 formal dedication of Southwestern Electric Power Company’s (SWEPCO) John W. Turk, Jr. Power Plant in Southwest Arkansas praised the plant’s advanced technology, the commitment of the company and its employees, and the strong support from the community, while also honoring the man for whom the plant is named.

More than 400 invited guests attended the ceremony, including public officials, plant partners, community leaders and employees. The event was moved from the Turk Plant to the nearby University of Arkansas Community College at Hope because of the threat of severe weather.

The 600-megawatt coal-fueled plant began commercial operation Dec. 20. AEP SWEPCO owns 73 percent (440 MW) of the facility, which is located in Hempstead County about 15 miles from Texarkana. The plant is named for the late John W. Turk, Jr., who was president and CEO of SWEPCO from 1983 to 1988. Turk pioneered the addition of coal and lignite to diversify SWEPCO’s generation fleet in the 1970s and 1980s. He visited the new facility during construction but passed away in 2009. The dedication program culminated with the unveiling of a large bronze plaque commemorating Turk and listing many individuals involved in the project.

(Left to right) Mike Morris, Venita McCellon-Allen and Nick Akins unveil a bronze plaque commemorating John W. Turk, Jr. and listing many of the individuals involved in the project. The plaque will be permanently displayed at the plant. Photos by Peter Main.

“The Turk Plant is a testament to American Electric Power’s engineering and execution capability,” said Venita McCellon-Allen, SWEPCO president and chief operating officer. “And it’s a testament to the power of committed community leaders who would never, never, never give up … The Turk Plant is a testament to committed company leaders and board members who oversaw and managed the execution risk of a $1.8 billion project conceived and constructed over a seven-year period.”

Mike Morris is AEP’s non-executive chairman and was chairman, president and CEO throughout most of the Turk project. Morris noted how the southwest corner of the state looked favorably on economic development and how much the political support of mayors and other public officials has been appreciated.

“The production of electricity from this plant will allow everybody who lives in this particular region to enjoy the benefits of electricity — better health care, better educational opportunities, better worship opportunities, better business opportunities. Electricity is the lifeblood of the U.S. economy and the creativity of this country, and we are proud to be here with you and we thank you for your support,” Morris said.


As an ultra-supercritical plant, the Turk Plant operates at higher steam and higher temperatures to make electricity more efficiently than traditional older generation technology.

“It is what we call the more miles-per-gallon plant,” McCellon-Allen said. “That is good not only for our customers’ pocketbooks but also for the environment, and it is a technology that American Electric Power is pleased to have pioneered and to have brought to the industry.”

Nick Akins, AEP president and CEO, called attention to the plant’s heat rate of 8,720 btu/kWh – “greater than 10 percent better than any other coal plant in the country, less emissions, less fuel, less carbon emissions that you hear about all the time,” he said.

“Clearly it shows technology is moving ahead from many perspectives, and that includes coal, and coal will remain a big part of this company’s future, and in fact, the United States’ future, as well,” Akins said.

It’s the first ultra-supercritical coal plant in this country, and it “has been operating like a top. It has been one of those units that we are extremely, extremely proud of,” he added.

Akins cited the leadership roles of McCellon-Allen and Paul Chodak, now president and CEO of Indiana Michigan Power, in pushing the project though, plus many others in construction and other involvement in the project.

During the same construction period for new generation, SWEPCO also completed the 509-MW natural gas combined cycle J. Lamar Stall Unit in Shreveport in 2010 and the 300-MW natural gas combustion turbine Harry Mattison Power Plant in Northwest Arkansas in 2007.

Venita McCellon-Allen, SWEPCO president and chief operating officer, greets guests and dignitaries at the Turk dedication ceremony.

Plant Co-Owners and Supporters

Co-owners of the Turk Plant include the Arkansas Electric Cooperative Corp. (AECC – 12 percent), East Texas Electric Cooperative (ETEC – 8 percent) and Oklahoma Municipal Power Authority (OMPA – 7 percent). All three are long-standing partners in other SWEPCO coal- and lignite-fueled plants.

“On behalf of the public power non-profit partners, we are proud today to be part of the cleanest, most efficient coal project in the United States,” said Duane Highley, AECC’s president and CEO. “On the public power side, the plant will serve about 2 million ultimate consumers in Arkansas, Texas and Oklahoma.”

Highley noted that there are those who say we should look to natural gas for our future. But he emphasized fuel diversity, noting that “the mix matters” and the Turk Plant is important for providing affordable power, jobs and a better quality of life.

Arkansas Lt. Gov. Mark Darr recalled visiting the plant shortly after he took office in early 2011. “I was blown away because the investment and the risk, the chance that people and companies and individuals took on Arkansas,” Darr said. Although much attention is focused on the Arkansas General Assembly, which is in session in Little Rock, “today the news in Arkansas is right here,” Darr said.

Former 4th District Congressman Mike Ross has strongly supported the Turk Plant and advocated for fuel diversity.

“If you think about it, we’re here to celebrate a billion-dollar investment in Arkansas and the jobs that come with it,” Ross said. “We’re here to celebrate the scientific achievements that have helped make the Turk Power Plant the cleanest, most efficient coal fueled plant in the United States … I want to applaud (the Turk Plant partners) for investing in Arkansas and for choosing to build their state-of-the-art power plant right here in Southwest Arkansas.

“If we are going to meet this country’s energy needs, we must have a balanced energy portfolio that embraces all forms of domestic energy. This all-of-the-above approach should make thoughtful investments in natural gas, hydro, nuclear, clean coal, wind, solar, biofuels and other promising alternative renewable sources of energy, all while protecting the environment,” Ross added.

Reflecting on Mr. Turk

Les Dillahunty, retired SWEPCO, Central and South West Corp. and Southwest Power Pool executive, reflected on Turk’s career.

         John W. Turk, Jr.

“He was a man of vision who transformed this utility from one that was almost totally dependent on natural gas to one that was much larger with a diversified fuel mix. It all came about in 1968 when the company’s largest supplier of natural gas advised that natural gas wasn’t going to be available in the future as a boiler fuel supply,” Dillahunty said.

The company’s study led to the choice of western coal, but Turk was looking beyond western coal to the use of locally mined lignite because of the greater impact it would have in SWEPCO’s Texas and Louisiana service territories.

The dedication event featured a video interview with Turk from 1984 during construction of the Henry W. Pirkey Plant in East Texas. Turk reflected on the coal, lignite, cost recovery and other topics as he stood on the boiler structure of the Pirkey Plant and talked with Graham Dodson, then with SWEPCO’s Corporate Communications Department and today with AEP Texas.

Dillahunty also talked about Turk’s love for his wife, Ann Dean Turk (who passed away last year), his caring for his church and community, his service in the Marines and as a pilot. “He actually flew over the plant site a few times during construction,” Dillahunty said. ““He loved Southwestern Electric Power Company. He cared for its heritage, its culture and its leaders.”

Turk started out as an instrument repairman at one of the gas-fired power plants and rose to president and CEO, Dillahunty noted. “He just cared a great deal about the company, its employees. He was very humbled and honored to know that this plant would be named for him.”

Elizabeth Stephens, principal regulatory consultant for SWEPCO in Arkansas, worked side-by-side with Turk for many years and was close to both Mr. and Mrs. Turk. She spoke about how he would react to having the plant named for him.

“I’m sure if he were here today, his eyes would be gleaming with delight,” Stephens said. “He would have the biggest grin. He would be so pleased and so proud … I think I know what Mr. Turk might have said because whenever he was very pleased or very impressed with a decision or a job well done, he’d just nod his head and say, ‘Outstanding.’ So to those who fought so hard for this plant and to those who supported and believed in it, to those who built the plant and to those who are now operating the plant, he would just nod his head in approval and say, ‘Outstanding.’”

From → News From AEP

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