Regulations, litigation force cancellation of Texas coal-fired power plant construction

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Michael Bastasch DCNF Managing Editor
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Opponents of the coal industry won a victory last week when it was announced that the White Stallion coal-fired power plant in Matagorda County, Texas suspended development, partly due to litigation costs and potential federal environmental regulations.

“We have decided to ask the Travis County Court for a stay in the litigation against our … air permit through December of this year,” Randy Bird, COO for White Stallion, told STATEIMPACT TEXAS. “Our air permit extension expires then. If the stay is granted, we will not commence construction while the stay is in effect.”

For years, the coal plant has been the target of environmental groups. Activists have worked to shut down other coal power projects throughout the state as well, and there are no major traditional coal plants planned for construction in Texas.

“After suffering numerous setbacks … White Stallion has finally seen the writing on the wall,” said Austin attorney Tom Weber, lead counsel at the Environmental Defense Fund who worked in court to stop White Stallion. “This is a big win for clean air in Texas and for the Environmental Defense Fund.”

The Houston Chronicle reports that White Stallion violated new federal limits on emissions of mercury and toxic pollutants, and the plant needed the court to block or scale back the mercury rules so the plant could be built before April. Building it before then would mean it avoids the EPA’s first-ever limits on power plant emissions of carbon dioxide and greenhouse gases.

The coal industry has been hit hard by new waves of regulations under the Obama administration and Texas is no exception. According to the Sierra Club, 13 coal plants and 21 coal boiler proposals have been cancelled in Texas over the past decade. Nationwide, 175 proposed coal plants have been scrapped and 139 existing plants are slated for retirement.

This is the second time in a month that coal-plant developers had to shelve a project in Texas. A Houston-based company pulled the plug on a petroleum coke plant in Corpus Christi in January after the company announced it was going out of business.

Last fall, Luminant’s Monticello announced it was idling two of its coal units for half of the year in an effort to save money due to competition from cheap natural gas. Luminant coal plants have been targeted by an environmental campaign to shut down coal plants within the state.

The Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal Campaign has been targeting coal plants across the country, including plants in Texas.

“The goal of our campaign is to get the owner of the Big Brown Plant and other plants across Texas to phase out those types of plants in the upcoming years,” said Al Armendariz, senior campaign manager of the Sierra Club’s anti-coal campaign in Texas, in regards to Luminant’s plant.

Armendariz resigned from the Environmental Protection Agency after coming under fire for remarks in which he compared agency environmental enforcement to Roman crucifixions.

The White Stallion plant would have generated 1,200 megawatts of power — enough to power 240,000 during peak demand times.

Coal is a major source of electricity in Texas, with coal-fired plants generating more than 12,500 gigawatt hours of electricity in October 2012.

Coal’s share of power generation has fallen from 49 percent in 2007 to 42 percent in 2011 as more plants have switched to burning natural gas.

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