Scrubbers Won't Clean Austin's Coal Plant
Recently Austin's coal plant got its "scrubbers." Mike Sloan, Texas energy consultant and founder of PowerSmack.org says, "Completion of the scrubbers at the Fayette coal plant is good news and bad news."
- CO2 emissions are still VERY high.
- Significant new costs will delay Austin's climate protection leadership.
- According to Sierra Club the plant is still spewing record pollutants.
Austin's coal plant is in Fayette County, near La Grange, TX.
The plant, easy to see from your car window on hwy 71 to Houston,
provides Austin's least expensive electricity.
GOOD – in that that these scrubbers lessen emissions of SOx (by 95 percent) & mercury (by 20 percent) for future operation of the coal plant.
BAD - the extra scrubber equipment makes the plant a little less efficient (like adding a catalytic converter to a car drops gas mileage performance), which means the coal plant will have a little more water use, fuel use & higher CO2 emissions.
ALSO BAD - Cost to produce a unit of energy ($ per MegaWatt) is distinctly higher. In addition to the decreased performance, there are increased operating costs for extra workers and maintenance of the scrubbers and substantial capital costs ($400+ million) that have been incurred. My understanding is that Austin Energy financed their contribution over 30 years." Note, the whole plant (3 coal-fired generating units) is owned by Austin Energy and the LCRA. The LCRA manages the facility. This video from the LCRA sites total costs at $445 million, of which Austin Energy customers will cover about $220 million.
BADDEST -- For those wanting to lower CO2 emissions, the scrubbers are a major utility investment that represent a major step in extending the life of the coal plant for 30 years. A lot of people involved with the decision to invest in the scrubbers will likely want this coal plant to run for several decades to justify the big investment... (and the scrubbers don't reduce CO2)." A 2004 study by Public Citizen lists Austin's coal plant as the 34th worst CO2 polluter in the USA (contact me for and Austin Energy readily admits the coal plant is responsible for more than 70 percent of the utility's total CO2 emissions. I think we should plant more trees.
WORST -- "In contrast, perhaps 1/3 of the coal plants in the country are scheduled to shut down for economic reasons alone in the next 10 years (for example, TVA just made a big announcement).
ALSO WORST -- "In Texas, CPS in San Antonio recently announced that rather than spend half a billion on scrubbers to extend the life of their oldest coal plant, they expect to shut the plant down earlier and instead accelerate investment in solar power. LCRA & Austin made the decision to fix up their old coal plant when natural gas prices were high (around 2005). If they knew what natural gas price forecasts would be today, they too may have decided to shut Fayette down rather than invest in the scrubbers. But now that they have made the investment, LCRA & Austin Energy likely want to keep the coal plant running for a very long time."
INSULT TO INJURY -- "The sulfur/mercury/etc waste slurry that comes from the [scrubbers] is largely turned into building materials. [It does not disappear magically.] If it was not, I believe it would have to go into a special landfill for hazardous waste."
Not to mention, a coalition of Texas enviro groups recently filed suit against the plant for "for thousands of ongoing violations of the federal Clean Air Act." Learn more about the lawsuits.
Get involved: Austin has a dirty secret