When it comes to using coal to make electricity in Texas, groups opposed to what they call “dirty coal” say they almost always lose when they try to convince state regulators to deny proposed plants permission to operate. But while they’ve lost some battles, are they actually winning the war?
Look what’s happening near Goliad in South Texas. It’s known for its role in one of the first battles in the Texas War of Independence. More recently, Goliad has been the site of another battle over power in the region: electrical power and how to make it.
Just east of town is the Coleto Creek power plant. It’s a coal-burner. And when the plant’s owners announced plans to add another coal-burning unit, some residents thought that sounded great.
“It’s a lot cleaner than what you’d imagine and quite frankly, there’s not a lot of ruckus in the community over it,” said Bruce Ure, a city manager in nearby Victoria. “The plant seems to be real good partner in the community.”
Not so fast, said some other residents.
“We do have scientific data that demonstrates beyond a shadow of a doubt that particulate matter ejected from coal plants does cause health problems,” said Richard Gill who works in emergency medical care. His home, nestled among live oaks at the end of a gravel road that runs through sprawling meadows, is just a mile or so from the power plant.
Gill was among those who opposed the expansion of the Coleto Creek plant at hearings held by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality which decides if plants qualify for permits to release certain amounts of pollution. But Gill’s side lost.
“Basically, they got their permit,” he said.
And yet, one of the nation’s most active opponents to coal, the Sierra Club, said what happened in Goliad wasn’t a defeat at all. They point out the project has never gotten off the ground.
“Thus far, (the opponents) have won. Coleto Creek’s been fully permitted, meaning they could begin construction for more than a year and nobody’s been breaking ground,” said Jennifer Powis who heads the Sierra Club’s “Beyond Coal” campaign in Texas.
“Why put your capital investment into coal right now when there are so many other options that are just as cheap and much, much cleaner,” said Powis, referring to alternatives like natural gas (Texas uses more natural gas than coal to make electricity according to the state).
The owner of the Coleto Creek plant confirms that the expansion project is at a standstill.
“We have not moved forward with Coleto Creek II because current market circumstances don’t support the building of new power plants in the ERCOT region regardless of fuel source,” said Julie Vitek with GDF Suez Energy North America, headquartered in Houston.
Others in the industry blame the delays on proposed environmental regulations.
“The more likely explanation for delay would be the lack of direction from Washington, D.C. on energy legislation and regulatory action pending at the EPA,” said Lisa Camooso Miller with the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity, an industry group.
There are more than a half dozen proposed coal-burning power plants in various stages of development in Texas.