October 5, 2018 Read More →

Oklaunion joins long list of Texas coal plants to fail economic test

Texas Observer:

Chalk this one up as another loss for the White House.

Last month, American Electric Power (AEP) announced that it would close its 650-megawatt power plant in Vernon, a rural community of 11,000 just south of the Texas-Oklahoma line, by September 2020. The closure of the Oklaunion Power Station is the latest in a string of shuttered coal-fired power plants across the state: Since 2011, at least six have been mothballed, scheduled for retirement or closed altogether, casualties of cheap natural gas and a booming renewables sector.

While it’s not shocking that another Texas coal plant has succumbed to market headwinds, it is somewhat surprising that Oklaunion was the latest casualty. At only 31 years old, it’s more than two decades away from the typical retirement age of 54. The plant was also running relatively efficiently until 2013, according to the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis. Plant efficiency has dropped in the years since, however, sapping profits and forcing AEP to pull the plug. The impending closure maps a tough road ahead for Texas’ aging fleet of coal plants, some of which also face the prospect of installing expensive new pollution controls to comply with Obama-era environmental regulations (Oklaunion itself is among the state’s top 10 emitters of nitrogen oxide, according to the Sierra Club).

Not only are coal plants prone to spewing greenhouse gases and smog-producing chemical compounds, many facilities nationwide have grown inefficient and costly to operate as they’ve aged. Electric utilities are looking for cheaper, more efficient power sources such as natural gas and wind. For the state’s power generators, the writing is on the wall: There’s little room for coal in Texas’ future.

Oklaunion’s shutdown bookends a series of coal-fired power plant closures in Texas. The trend began in 2011 when CPS Energy, San Antonio’s municipal electric utility, chose to mothball its 871-megawatt J.T. Deely Power Plant instead of retrofitting it with new pollution controls. In 2016, AEP retired its coal-burning units at the Welsh Power Plant for similar reasons. Then, in late 2017, Luminant announced that it would close three of its coal-fired plants in Texas: Monticello (Mt. Pleasant), Big Brown (Fairfield) and Sandow (Rockdale), representing a combined capacity of 4,600 megawatts (1 megawatt powers about 750 homes at once). The Three Oak coal mine supplying Sandow has also closed.

More: Despite Trump and Rick Perry’s best efforts, another coal plant eats the dust in Texas

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