Thomas B. Fitzhugh Station

The Thomas B. Fitzhugh Generating Station is owned by the Arkansas Electric Cooperative Corporation (AECC) and is located near Ozark, Arkansas along the Arkansas River. The plant uses steam-powered turbines with natural gas and oil for fuel.

The Fitzhugh Generating Station began operations in 1963 after several long years of struggling for building permits and power plant licenses. It was the first of 17 power plants along the Arkansas River to be built by the Arkansas Electric Cooperative. The final cost of the plant was $7.5 million and its initial output was 59 megawatts from a single generator.

The Fitzhugh Station was upgraded in June 2003. A second generating system was added that effectively tripled the plant’s total electricity output. The new addition was celebrated with a rededication ceremony that saw the reopening of the plant at its new 170 megawatt capacity. The upgrades not only included a new boiler and turbine outfitted to run on natural gas and fuel oil, but also included a third generator run on steam, created from a heat recovery system.
The final cost of the upgrades totaled $60 million.

After the upgrades, the AECC hailed the new plant for its ability to provide cheap electricity to the company’s customers. The upgrades brought the total output by AECC to 2,977 megawatts from its coal, natural gas, fuel oil and hydroelectric generating plants. AECC currently provides electricity to 450,000 members.

The Thomas B. Fitzhugh Generating Station is located near Ozark, Arkansas, a small town of 3,500 that rests on the banks of the Arkansas River. The nearest large city is Fort Smith, and Little Rock is located about 100 miles southeast of Ozark. The station is built on the northern bank of the river. Ozark, Arkansas is known for being the home to Arkansas Tech University. It is surrounded by the Ozark National Forest.

During a routine inspection conducted by the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality in 2002, several notable pollution control problems were discovered. For several days, the plant was found to be burning fuel oil without the mandatory emissions testing for sulfur dioxide called for by law. The gas pipeline was found to be unmonitored, which is required by both Arkansas state and federal law. Several other infractions were also found. The plant was fined $2,000 and was required to enroll in an environmental safety program. AECC lawyers were subsequently able to find loopholes in the laws, forcing the agency to drop or reduce most of the citations.

However, the plant’s dangers might also extend to the inner atmosphere of its plants that employees must work in daily. As an older power plant, the chances are high that the inexpensive, effective insulator, asbestos, was used to line both the building itself and the equipment inside. As the material ages, it tends to fragment into small particles that can enter the systems of those who come into contact with it, leading to the development of several undesirable health conditions, including a lethal form of cancer known as mesothelioma.