Sun sets on two more coal plant projects

Tenaska Inc. has dropped plans for a 600-megawatt power plant in West Texas, marking the latest in a series of coal-fired projects abandoned because of cheap and abundant natural gas.

The Omaha, Neb.-based company on Friday also announced that it no longer will pursue the development of a coal-fired power plant in Illinois, saying it will shift its attention to natural gas and renewable sources.

Since Tenaska began pursuing the coal projects in 2006, several market and policy changes “have contributed to our belief that these projects are no longer viable,” said Dave Fiorelli, the company’s president of development.

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Tenaska is not the only company to come that conclusion.

Since November alone, NRG Texas Power has scrapped its planned Limestone 3 coal project near Waco, while Chase Power Development has pulled the plug on a proposed Corpus Christi plant fueled by petroleum coke, the carbon-rich leftover from nearby oil refining.

Developers also dropped plans for the White Stallion Energy Center about 90 miles southwest of Houston, saying coal projects no longer are competitive.

Tenaska’s Trailblazer Energy Center near Abilene was supposed to be among the first commercial-scale coal plants in the nation to capture its emissions of carbon dioxide, a climate-altering gas.

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The company pledged to capture at least 85 percent of its carbon dioxide under a 2010 agreement with the Environmental Defense Fund. Despite the agreement, the Sierra Club still opposed the project, saying the plant still would emit too much pollution and require too much water.

“Coal is a bad bet for utilities everywhere, and after years of fighting the inevitable, Tenaska learned this the hard way,” said Bruce Nilles, senior director of the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal Campaign. “The cost of coal will continue to rise as clean energy, especially Texas wind, gets cheaper and cheaper.”