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Cheap Gas And Wind Power Are Making Coal Obsolete In Texas, One Group Says

Gibbons Creek Steam Electric Station near Bryan is one of seven coal-fired power plants that are -- or soon will be -- uneconomical, according to a new report.

At least seven coal-fired power plants in Texas could face closure in coming years because more renewables and cheap gas makes coal power too expensive. That’s according to a new report commissioned by the environmental group Public Citizen.

“Changes in the energy markets and technology changes were basically rendering these plants unprofitable,” said David Schlissel, from the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis, who conducted the study.

Schlissel found that from 2008 to 2015, wind power in Texas increased by 25 million megawatt hours. In the same period, power from coal went down about 17 million megawatt hours. And, he says, because wind and solar are free, and natural gas is cheap, the prospects no longer look good for coal.

“So it’s a double whammy – that’s a technical term – for the coal plant owners,” Schlissel said. “They get less revenue for every megawatt hour, and they’re selling fewer megawatt hours.”

Rita Beving from Public Citizen says that air quality in North Texas has long been impacted by the emissions from coal plants.

“We’re talking hundreds of thousands of cars worth of pollution, and if these plants aren’t economical to run, we need to consider the benefit to the local DFW area if they retire,” said Beving

Beving says retiring coal plants should be done carefully and not overnight – so that workers can be retrained and the site cleaned up.

Not everyone agrees with the report’s conclusions. The Lower Colorado River Authority, which co-owns a coal-fired plant in Texas, told the Austin American-Statesman that there’s no basis that its plant will become uneconomic, and that it believes it will continue operating for years to come.

KERA tried to reach the Texas Municipal Power Agency, which operates the coal-powered Gibbons Creek Steam Electric Station in Bryan. Gibbons Creek is co-owned by the cities of Garland, Denton, Greenville and Bryan. TMPA did not immediately return a call for comment.

Christopher Connelly is a reporter covering issues related to financial instability and poverty for KERA’s One Crisis Away series. In 2015, he joined KERA to report on Fort Worth and Tarrant County. From Fort Worth, he also focused on politics and criminal justice stories.