Big Brown is shutting down.
The two-unit coal-fired electricity generation plant in Freestone County between Palestine and Corsicana began phasing out operations on Monday.
It’s the third of three Texas coal-power plants being shut down by Luminant, dropping more than 4,600 MW of power capacity in Texas, and the effects are being felt around the nation.
Because of related pollution, the Sierra Club estimates that the closing of Big Brown alone will save “an estimated 163 lives every year, prevent nearly 6,000 asthma attacks, prevent tens of thousands of lost work and school days, and save $1.6 billion in in annual public health costs, according to analysis conducted with EPA-approved air modeling.”
The other two plants, the Monticello about 130 miles east of Dallas and the Sandow Steam Electric Station in Milam County east of Round Rock, are already phasing out and ceased operations last month.
Coal-fired plants can no longer compete with cheap natural gas, and as Vistra Energy subsidiary Luminant put it when announcing the shutdowns, “sustained low wholesale power prices, an oversupplied renewable generation market” and other factors joined in making poor investments of the plants.
Mine operations are also affected.
The Three Oaks Mine, located primarily in Bastrop County, which supported the Sandow, is also mostly shut down and Alcoa’s smelter operation next to the Sandow plant has curtailed operations.
Turlington Mine, which supplies Big Brown, was already scheduled to wind down operations by the end of 2017.
Reclamation work will continue there.
And Big Brown was a big customer for Wyoming’s coal sector.
The Luminant plants were two of the largest buyers of coal from Peabody Energy‘s Rawhide mine north of Gillette, Wyoming, in 2017.
The loss of revenue from the Texas plants is hitting hard — Wyoming coal companies are adjusting to reduced demand.
This, even after a huge slump in coal markets resulted in the loss of more than 1,000 coal-related jobs in the state and sent three companies into bankruptcy.
And then there’s the challenge for ERCOT.
Potomac Economics, the independent market monitor for the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, said the plant shutdowns are cutting into the Texas grid’s reserve capacity.
Potomac’s Beth Garza said late last year that reserve margins, with the plant losses, could fall to 12% — below the 13.75% level needed to meet peak demand.
A separate analysis by S&P Global Platts concluded that the margins could drop to 12.4 percent in summer 2018 and 10.6 percent in summer 2022, according to Energy Resources online.
These concerns come just as the city of Lubbock — with a population of about 250,000 — wants to leave the Southwest Power Pool (which serves a small percentage of Texas and is part of the North American Electric Reliability Corporation) to join the ERCOT power network.
There is much hope and even some proof that wind and solar generation can make up for at least some of the power generation losses, and there are plenty of ideas circulating, from Elon-Musk-to-the-rescue scenarios to vague talk of joining ERCOT territory to outside grids.
The Sierra Club applauded the plant closings but, in a news release Monday, said it’s not enough: “Despite the phase-out of these three Luminant coal plants this past month, Texas still has more dirty coal plants producing more pollution than in any other state. Our work will continue until all Texans in every corner of the state enjoy clean and safe air quality,” Dallas Sierra Club organizer Misti O’Quinn said.
“Despite clean energy’s rapid growth in Texas and the profound change in how Texas is powered, companies like Luminant, Dynegy, and NRG and communities like San Antonio and Austin are still collectively burning more coal in Texas than in any other state in the country.
“With the retirement of Big Brown, the biggest air quality threats to Dallas and across East Texas are Luminant’s Martin Lake coal plant and NRG’s Limestone coal plant.
“Coal plants and other pollution sources throughout the state have made many of Texas’ major metropolitan areas – including Dallas, El Paso, Houston and San Antonio – rank among the most-polluted communities in the nation, according to the American Lung Association’s “State of the Air” report,
— Mike Shiloh