Legislation could delay Fannin coal plant expansion


March 25, 2009 at 6:04 p.m.
Updated March 24, 2009 at 10:25 p.m.

Environmentalists and state legislators are calling for a temporary moratorium on proposed coal plants, including the proposed coal plant expansion in Goliad County.

Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston, and Rep. Allen Vaught, D-Dallas, filed bills calling for a halt to constructing coal plants that would not use carbon capture and sequestration. The legislation would serve to combat climate change as Texas leads the nation in emissions, according to Ellis' bill analysis.

Citizens for a Clean Environment, a group of residents from Goliad and Victoria counties, hopes the legislation passes and would like to stop Coleto Creek Power from adding its proposed Unit 2 coal-fired plant in Fannin.

Charlie Faupel, of Reeves Ranch, the group's chairman, worries what the additional mercury in the Coleto Creek Reservoir, used to cool the coal-fired operations, would do to the fish and those eating them.

He noticed the degradation of his trees over the past 25 years, which he believes comes from the current plant's sulfur dioxide emissions.

"I think coal is creating a lot of pollution. I'm worried about the environment. I'm worried what it's doing to people's health," Faupel said. "We want to make sure they build this thing with the cleanest technology if they in fact build it, and clean up the old plant."

Unit 2, owned by International Power and South Texas Electric Cooperative, would use more efficient supercritical technology and will be carbon capture ready, said Michael Fields, director of business development for International Power.

The company already invested $50 million for a baghouse, which collects fine particles, to decrease emissions from the current coal-fired plant and continues to look at cost-effective ways of reducing emissions, he added.

If the filed legislation passes as written, the permitting process for the expansion of the coal operations could be delayed at least two years, Fields said.

Fields hopes all interests for the overall people of Texas are considered in the debate surrounding the filed bills.

"All sides of this subject should be weighed carefully," he said. "The environment should be protected, energy security should be supported through a diverse source of fuels and the economics of any decision should not be ignored."

The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality already issued a draft air permit for the proposed plant, recommending it be issued. The permit process will continue in a contested case hearing, in which Citizens for a Clean Environment will continue to fight the expansion.

Citizens works with Public Citizen, a national nonprofit consumer advocacy group, and the Sustainable Energy and Economic Development Coalition to promote energy efficiency and renewable energy. These environmentalists expect as carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases become further regulated as driven by Washington policy, coal won't be seen as a cheap, viable option.

But Goliad County Judge Harold Gleinser warns that the county can ill afford a delay or stop to Unit 2's construction.

"It needs to stay on course," he said. "From an economic standpoint, tax base, it would just be bad all over - jobs, the whole nine yards."



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