Texas Wind Energy Production Overtaking Coal as Plants Close
As a result of challenging plant and market economics, Luminant is set to shutter two coal-fired power plants in Central Texas: Sandow, in Milam County, and Big Brown, in Freestone County, taking approximately 2,300 megawatts (MW) offline in early 2018. These two plants are economically challenged in the competitive Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) market, and sustained low wholesale power prices, an oversupplied renewable generation market and low natural gas prices, along with other factors, contributed to the decisions.
Also, Alcoa's energy-intensive smelter operation next to Sandow has closed, which was in effect subsidizing output from the power plant. Accordingly, the Three Oaks Mine, in Bastrop County, is closing, as well. Josh Rhodes, a research fellow at the University of Texas-Austin Energy Institute, says that canceling out this much coal-generated electricity from the Texas grid this quickly is unusual. “We’ve never seen coal numbers move this fast.”
Texas is already the top wind power state in the country, with nearly 36 million megawatt/hours. According to Rhodes, “It looks like we may have already crossed the threshold where we have more wind capacity than we do coal capacity.” If that hasn’t happened yet, he said, the plant closures mean it will definitely happen next year when Texas has the capacity to generate 15 gigawatts (GW) of electricity from coal and 24 GW from wind. Depending on the weather, one GW is enough to power anywhere from 200,000 to 500,000 homes.
The switch away from coal will also have a positive impact on carbon emissions. Dan Cohan, a professor of civil engineering at Rice University, notes the plants that are closing accounted for 11 percent of CO2 emissions from Texas power plants last year.
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