Saturday, September 14, 2013

Texas has two of the dirtiest power plants in the country

They burn coal. A lot of coal.
The new report, from the group Environment America, ranks the 100 dirtiest power plants in the U.S. Overall, nearly 6,000 different power generation facilities are located in the U.S., which in total account for 41 percent of the greenhouse gas emissions produced here. But the 100 dirtiest alone -- all but two of which are coal-fired power plants -- create nearly half of those planet-warming emissions.  [...]

The top five individual plants were:
  1. Georgia Power Company's Plant Scherer
  2. Alabama Power Company's James H. Miller Jr. Plant
  3. Luminant Generation Company's Martin Lake Plant (near Dallas)
  4. Union Electric Company's Labadie Plant in Missouri
  5. NRG Texas Power's W.A. Parish Plant (near Houston)
These power plants, said Julian Boggs, Environment America's global warming program director, "are the elephant in the room when it comes to global warming."

In case you have missed the local developments...

In past years, the W. A. Parish power plant outside Houston in Fort Bend County has ranked near the top of national lists for “Most Polluting Power Plants.” It has also been lauded for its efforts to reduce emissions.

Now, this power behemoth, the biggest power plant in Texas and second biggest fossil fuel-burning plant in the nation, is planning to build one of the country’s more innovative pollution control projects. It will use some of its pollution to pump oil out of the ground.  [...]

Here’s how it’s suppose to work: the W.A. Parish plant burns some 36,000 tons of coal a day, producing tons of carbon dioxide, a major greenhouse gas linked to climate change. The CO2 would normally go up and out the smokestacks. But now with the new system, the gas will be “captured” before it leaves the stack by spraying it with a chemical solvent. Then, the CO2 gas will be compressed and fed into a pipeline. [...] The pipeline will run some 80 miles to the West Ranch Oil Field east of Victoria, Texas. There, the CO2 will be pumped a mile underground to expand oil deposited in rock formations, allowing the oil to be piped up to the surface.

This process of rejuvenating old oil fields by pumping in CO2 has been used for several decades, especially in West Texas. But getting the CO2 from a power plant is what’s new.

Not everyone is convinced this is good news.

“Anybody who’s independent enough and really worth their salt is never going to guarantee you that you can store this highly pressurized (CO2) underground for thousands of years and expect it to stay there,” said Ryan Rittenhouse with the environmental group Greenpeace. It’s backing a protest organization called Quit Coal.

Rittenhouse contends there is not enough research to determine if the CO2 won’t just leak back to the surface, defeating the whole idea of reducing greenhouse gases. Critics also have said there is the added worry that pumping such quantities deep into the ground might increase seismic activity or leak into underground water supplies, increasing the water’s alkalinity and causing other changes to degrade water quality.

It will be early 2016 before NRG engages the carbon capture and storage system.  Meanwhile, the Luminant facility in North Texas -- and its parent company, EFH -- is in much deeper doodoo.

The Justice Department sued one of the nation’s biggest but most financially shaky power generators (last month), saying Dallas-based Luminant had made pollution-increasing changes at two Texas coal plants without permits or necessary environmental upgrades.


Luminant is a subsidiary of Energy Future Holdings, created in 2007 in the $45 billion private-equity buyout of the former TXU. After years of low wholesale electricity prices and an exodus of retail customers, many analysts predict bankruptcy soon for EFH, which faces $4 billion in annual interest payments on its debt.

The two coal-burning plants in the lawsuit, Big Brown in Freestone County and Martin Lake in Rusk County, are factors in Dallas-Fort Worth’s smog but also anchors of Luminant’s fleet.
Their fate in a bankruptcy filing — upgraded, sold, closed or transferred to creditors along with the rest of Luminant — is part of discussions of EFH’s future. They are among Texas’ biggest and oldest industrial polluters, predating modern coal plants’ emission controls, making them targets of environmental critics.

More from Bloomberg.

“While dozens of other utilities nationwide are investing in clean energy, installing modern pollution controls to reduce pollution and retire aging coal plants, Luminant stands out as one of the nation’s very worst actors,” Nia Martin-Robinson, a spokeswoman for the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal campaign in Texas, said in a statement. “It burns the dirtiest possible coal -- known as lignite -- and has repeatedly refused to install modern pollution controls.”  

It was Kohlberg Kravis Roberts, those old Bain Capitalists from the '80's, that originally bought out TXU and took them private.  Then energy deregulation in Texas came along and choked the remaining life out of the company (while still not giving electricity customers any relief from high rates).

As far as the environmental threat goes, this isn't garden-variety fracking or tar sands oil we're talking about here.  This is shipping coal in by rail from back East and burning it in giant furnaces to drive power generators to run our air conditioners and refrigerators.  And the biggest question might be: why aren't these facilities at least using cheap natural gas, of which we have an abundance in Texas and the US?

Because the plants are too old and too expensive to retrofit, and because the companies don't have enough incentive -- i.e. tax breaks -- to do so (and besides, natgas isn't as clean as some would have you believe, anyway).

Let's review: the power plants spew pollution into the air because they are too ancient to fix or replace without a big tax incentive, the companies that own them are about to declare bankruptcy because of crushing debt and deregulation...

Yet John Young, president and CEO of Energy Future Holdings, had his pay package more than double in a single year, between 2010 and 2011, from $6.9 million to $15 million.

You don't suppose that capitalist greed could be the root problem, do you?

Update: "Obama prepares to take on Big Coal"...

The rule coming this week wouldn’t apply to existing power plants — EPA will tackle those in a second rule due to be proposed next June and finished a year later. But EPA’s proposal is the first major step toward fulfilling Obama’s call this summer for his agencies to tackle climate change without waiting for help from a gridlocked Congress.


Expect to hear a lot about the rule during the next year, especially as Republicans use it as a weapon against coal-state Democrats like Virginia gubernatorial candidate Terry McAuliffe, West Virginia Rep. Nick Rahall and Kentucky Senate challenger Alison Lundergan Grimes. Meanwhile, environmental groups are expected to mount a major effort to champion the rule, offering both public and legal support while praising Obama for taking on the fight.

Much more about CCS -- carbon capture and storage -- at the links.


Gadfly said...

And, a lot of that coal they use is dirty Texas lignite, too, right?

PDiddie said...

Absolutely (see the Sierra Club representative's quote above, in the Bloomberg excerpt).

PM said...

Yet Luminant opens another mining area across from my house - Liberty Mine.

I'm writing about it on my blog

How do they spend millions of dollars and be heading to bankruptcy. Don't understand it.