Wind energy to overtake coal power in Texas

Wind energy is expected to overtake coal in Texas after Friday’s news that two large coal-fired power plants are set to close in the next year.

The utility firm Luminant announced that it would close the Sandow Power Plant and the Big Brown Power Plant in early 2018. The power plants comprise 2,300 megawatts of electricity, which means 2.1 million homes in the Lone Star State will no longer be powered by coal.

That gap in electricity generation is projected to be filled by wind farms in the Texas energy grid known as ERCOT, according to an analysis issued by the University of Texas at Austin’s Energy Institute soon after Luminant’s announcement.

“New coal retirements announced by Luminant (Big Brown and Sandow plants) means ERCOT will soon lose significant coal generation capacity. At the same time, wind capacity is expected to increase by nearly 4,000 [megawatts] by 2018, meaning wind capacity will soon exceed coal capacity in Texas,” the Energy Institute said.

“Given current capacity factors for the respective technologies, it’s conceivable that energy generation from wind could possibly overtake coal in the near future,” it said in a release.

The total amount of wind energy will reach 24,400 megawatts and coal shrinks to 20,370 megawatts, according to the university.

The coal plant announcements came as former Texas Gov. Rick Perry, now President Trump’s energy secretary, is pushing ahead with a controversial electricity market plan to prop up coal and nuclear plants that are struggling to remain economically competitive amid low natural gas prices, which has driven a shift to gas-fired power plants.

The plan is currently being pulled together as a formal rule by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which oversees the nation’s wholesale markets.

The Perry proposal aims to keep coal and nuclear plants as part of the nation’s energy mix amid the switch to natural gas and the rise of more renewable energy like wind and solar.

Trump has made restoring the coal mining industry and “clean coal” electricity a major part of his agenda as president. The administration has attempted to intervene after other coal plants have announced early retirements because of increased competition from natural gas.

The Navajo Generating Station in Arizona had announced this year that it plans to close in 2019. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke has been meeting with owners of the station to try to find a way to keep the plant operational by reducing its operational costs.

“Since the first weeks of the Trump administration, one of Interior’s top priorities has been to roll up our sleeves with diverse stakeholders in search of an economic path forward to extend NGS [Navajo Generating Station] and Kayenta Mine operations after 2019,” said Zinke back in June when the Navajo Council voted on a plan to keep the station and a related coal mine open through 2019. “Operating NGS and the Kayenta Mine through 2019 is the first step to meet this priority.”