Proposed coal plant changes cooling plans

Operators of a proposed coal-fired power plant in Matagorda County announced Thursday that they will drop their request for a 40-year water contract with the Lower Colorado River Authority, opting instead for a more expensive but less water-intensive technology.

“That was not our first choice, but with the drought, it had become very difficult for the (LCRA) board to approve this contract,” said Randy Bird, chief operating officer for the White Stallion Energy Center near Bay City.

White Stallion had asked the LCRA for 25,400 acre-feet of water per year, enough to supply about 50,000 homes. In return, it had agreed to pay $55 million up front for a reservoir in the lower basin to offset the potential impact on others who rely on the LCRA for water.

The LCRA decided last summer to indefinitely postpone a decision after environmentalists and farmers protested that the amount of water the plant wanted to use threatened agricultural operations and the estuary at the mouth of the Colorado River.

Instead, Bird said, the plant will switch to dry cooling technology. That will reduce its water needs to about 3,000 acre-feet per year, which he said the plant operators expect to buy from area farmers.

The change will add about $70 million to the plant’s capital costs, he said, and also will reduce the power output during hot weather.

Bird said construction could start early next year, with the first phase of the plant beginning operations in 2016. Bay City is about 90 miles southwest of Houston.

But the cooling change won’t satisfy all the plant’s critics.

“It dramatically reduces their water needs, but the plant still won’t have adequate pollution controls,” said Neil Carman, director of the clean air program for the Texas chapter of the Sierra Club.

He said the Sierra Club will continue to oppose the plant’s construction.