Texas mayors form group to fight new coal units

Texas mayors form group to fight new coal units

Mayors from 17 Texas cities, citing poor air quality across the state, vowed on Thursday to fight construction of more than a dozen coal-fired power plants unless regulators consider all options that could lead to cleaner air.

The group, Texas Cities for Clean Air Coalition, which includes mayors from Houston and Dallas, said it planned to intervene in the coal-plant permitting process and named law firm Susman Godfrey LLP of Houston to lead the fight.

The primary target is TXU Corp., which wants to build 11 coal units at nine existing power-plant sites while promising to reduce overall air emissions by 20 percent.

State regulators need to examine all available methods to reduce emissions of sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxide, carbon and mercury, Houston Mayor Bill White said at a press conference at city hall.

“We want to make sure we don’t regret (this construction) 10 to 20 years from now,” White said.

Generation companies are moving quickly to build coal-fired plants in Texas after rising natural gas prices made coal generation highly profitable in the state’s deregulated market.

NRG Energy and PNM Resources have also proposed adding coal units at generating sites they own in central Texas. LS Power Group was recently issued a permit to build a coal-fired plant in the area.

The City of San Antonio municipal utility is already building additional coal-fired generation.

The companies have proposed traditional coal-fired plants with “best-available” emission technology, such as special burners, selective catalytic reduction systems and scrubbers.

Opponents want a full evaluation of coal-gasification technology and other methods to limit air emissions.

Environmentalists claim the concentration of new plants will hurt efforts by the Dallas-Fort Worth area to meet federal clean air standards. Coal opponents also worry about unregulated emissions of carbon dioxide, which is thought to cause global warming, and mercury, which contaminates lakes and can cause brain damage in unborn children.

Citing efforts in other states to use new methods, such as coal-gasification, Dallas Mayor Laura Miller said TXU and other generators were “taking a giant step in the other direction that will make it nearly impossible for us to comply with federal air regulations.”

TXU said the mayors’ “go-slow approach” would prevent the state from keeping up with its growing power needs.

“We are trying to meet a gap we see in the power supply in Texas,” said Brad Jones, TXU vice president for generation development, who attended the press conference in Houston. “Once you get behind, it’s difficult to catch up.”

TXU has committed to spend up to $2 billion of its $10 billion coal investment on new technology, Jones said.

TXU on Thursday said it planned to pursue construction of additional nuclear generation in Texas to meet longer-term power needs.

NRG has also proposed adding nuclear units in Texas, along with wind and natural gas-fired generation.

“We’re pursuing a balanced strategy,” said Steve Winn, NRG Texas president.

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