Questions linger over proposed coal-fired plant

Questions linger over proposed coal-fired plant

Neighbors to a proposed coal-fired electrical plant met recently to discuss their opposition to the type of plant, the health effects from it and the expedited permit path it’s on. They will have a chance Dec. 7 to speak with a judge about their objections.

TXU is seeking state permits to run 11 electricity generating plants that use pulverized coal from Wyoming for fuel. The TXU plants, including Savoy Valley Plant 4, would use pulverized coal from Wyoming in current coal-fired technology. Another technology exists. Some say it’s unproven, other’s say it’s cleaner and better.

TXU Corp. Communications Director Tom Kleckner said the newer technology, coal gasification, is not yet commercially viable. TXU is proposing to convert the current natural gas-fired power plant near Savoy to a pulverized coal plant.

Citizens Organizing for Resources and Environment is a Fannin County group that met recently to urge others to join them in formal opposition to the coal-fired plant and support for coal gasification, also called IGCC. Residents may still be considered parties to the legal case if they show up at the hearing, scheduled for 10 a.m. Dec. 7, at L.H. Rather Junior High School, 1200 N. Main St. in Bonham.

”I think we need to ask some serious questions,” Scott Lipsett of Ravenna said at the recent CORE meeting. ”Why is a dirty industry allowed to come into our area without getting our opinion ”” and using antiquated, traditional, old technology when there’s new technology available? This isn’t guess work. The technology is there to be used. So Why can’t TXU take the time to research it and spend the money on it? Why will this area be allowed to be polluted like the Metroplex?”

Twenty-five members of the Texas House of Representatives seemed to agree that slower is better and that coal gasification is a viable energy production technology. Nov. 20, four Republicans and 21 Democrats, signed a statement asking Texas Commission on Environmental Quality to halt the fast-track process on seven of 19 power plants whose owners currently are seeking permits.

Eleven of these plants belong to TXU and eight, including one that will use IGCC, belong to other companies. The Savoy plant is one the 25 legislators asked be taken on a slower route to approval.

”(W)e do not believe it is prudent to permit all 18 proposed power plant projects at this time without giving full consideration to viable alternatives to the current design specifications included in these permits,” the letter states. ”Arguments are continually made that gasification (IGCC) is not yet fully developed for implementation in an actual plant even though the technology is currently in use and may be more effective at reducing emissions of concern than the technologies proposed in the above applications.

”We believe permitting so many plants without fully investigating IGCC and other new emission control technologies is short-sighted.”

The representatives also argue in the letter that permitting all 19 plants at once is a bad idea because their cumulative effect on the state’s environment has not been studied.

State Rep. Larry Phillips, who represents both Fannin and Grayson counties over which the plant’s emissions would drift, did not sign the letter. Phillips said he believes the process of permitting the plants should take as long as necessary to ensure that it meets or exceeds all state and federal guidelines.

”The timing of it to me is not as important as have they met all the requirements to ensure the safety and quality that’s required. But, he added, the state needs more power production to prevent brown-outs and black-outs. He said no IGCC plants have been permitted in Texas; they’re speculative and that they could be more properly considered as part of the Future Gen project Texas has applied for. He added that Texans need relief on their power bills and reliable sources of energy.

”I did get a call about it (the letter,) but it concerns other plants in other parts of the state that I haven’t evaluated yet, so I didn’t think I should sign it,” Phillips said.

Lipsett said that CORE must develop strength in numbers and take donations. The community, he said, must put aside any other differences and unite on this issue. Otherwise, TCEQ will not listen. The stakes could not be higher, he said.

Kleckner said TXU is investing billions of dollars in the most advanced pollution control devices, reducing overall levels of mercury in Texas. A TXU press release states, ”TXU will use the Best Available Control Technology (BACT) and will voluntarily remove 1.7 pounds of mercury from existing plants for every one pound of mercury from the new coal units. This will provide a 20-percent mercury reduction from current emission levels plus a complete, 100-percent offset of all mercury emissions from the new coal units.”

This statement does not seem to impress CORE members who said it amounts to trading their children’s health for the benefit of others. And that trade-off is not necessary, they said.

”Look at the children in this room,” Lipsett said. ”What are we going to leave as a legacy to our children in a dirty environment? As their lungs grow they are absorbing these emissions at an unbelievable rate. It’s particulate matter that we don’t even see. We can fence ourselves off from our neighbors; keep our cows from going into other people’s pastures; but these pollutants have no borders. They are swept around this county, around Texas; wherever the wind blows, they go.”

Texas is the worst state in the nation for mercury contamination of fish, Karen Hadden of SEED Coalition (Sustainable Energy and Economic Development) told the more than 50 people gathered at the CORE meeting. Texas has 13 state lakes under advisories warning people not to eat fish caught there. The entire Texas Gulf Coast is under an advisory that mackerel taken from the water is toxic, Hadden said.

Hadden explained that mercury is a neuro-toxin that can create severe learning disabilities and psychological disorders like autism. Children suffer higher rates of and more serious effects from pollution because their brains are developing and their lungs and the rest of their bodies are smaller.

Asthma is the number one cause of hospital admission for American children. The cost is great.

Tom ”Smitty” Smith, director of Public Citizen who spoke at the CORE meeting, said at just one hospital, Children’s Medical Center in Dallas, parents, taxpayers and other entities spent $825 million last year providing respiratory care to children, certainly not all due to power plant emission. However, he asked, why create more than is necessary to produce the power the state needs?

Smith said coal gasification plants cost about 10 percent more to operate and 20 percent more to build than they type of plant TXU wants to build. If all 18 proposed coal-fired plants were built as coal gasification plants, rather than the one proposed, the cost when applied to users’ bills would be about 60 cents a month. That’s a drop in the bucket compared with the rise in health care costs that would accompany more coal-fired plants going on line, Smith said.

Although the cleaner coal gasification plants will cost power companies more to build and maintain, there’s little difference in the number of jobs either type of plant would bring to Fannin County, Smith said. The initial jobs, those who would convert the current natural gas-fired plant to a coal-fired plant, mostly will come from construction teams that TXU already employs and would cycle through all the plants it’s constructing. The number of workers required to run the two types of plants are about the same, he said.

Phillips said the cost comparison is an improper argument because no one has proposed building an IGCC plant near Savoy. He said any number of kinds of plants could be constructed, but TXU’s coal fired plant is the only one proposed. If the TCEQ does its job and holds the corporation accountable, the plant should be built, he added, because it will put millions of dollars into the local economy.

Kleckner said that Fluor and Bechtel corporations will be constructing the plant if TXU secures the TCEQ’s permission to build it.

Smith explained the need for those who object to the plant to appear at the Dec. 7 hearing.

”What happens at the preliminary hearing is, anyone who wants to be a party to the case is going to be asked how you would be impacted. There’s a form available, that asks you to explain how you would be particularly and uniquely affected. So if you’re a farmer or a rancher; you’ve got fish in your pond; you’re somebody who has asthma or you may want to have a kid someday. You’re a parent, grandparent, are a recreator ”” like to canoe or fish, an astronomer who wants to look at the stars. Whatever way you can think of make sure that you say everything.”

He said at the hearing, the judge will ask each person if they want to be a party and how they would be affected. Then some of those people could become part of a group or a party to the case.

Someone will be designated as a representative of the group and that person keeps the other group members informed of what’s happening. That does not mean any of the members of the group will be required to prove the harm they fear will come to them, Smith said. Instead, once the court process is complete, the group will get a chance to agree or contest proposals to settle the matter. The burden of proof is on TXU, he said.

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