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Energy & Environment

Coal Burning Out As Way To Make Electricity In Texas

Texas is making big changes in what it uses to generate the electricity you use. The state’s power grid may be getting cleaner and cheaper.



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coal ash mound
Dave Fehling
Texas power plants that burn coal produce 13 million tons of coal ash a year

Burning coal to make electricity continues to plummet in Texas. A decade ago, coal was the fuel source for 50 percent of the power generation in the state. It’s now fallen to around 20 percent. Two decades from now, it's projected coal will generate maybe six percent of the state's power.

So what's replacing it?

"We're continuing to see growth in natural gas and we're also seeing significant growth in solar and wind. Coal... no," said Robbie Searcy, spokesperson for ERCOT, the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, the nonprofit company that manages the state's electricity market.

Searcy said during one windy period this past March, more electricity was being produced in Texas by wind turbines than by coal-burning power plants.

Environmentalist said market forces are merging with their goals to make the Texas electricity grid cleaner and greener.

"Renewables, especially wind and solar, will constitute as much as 90 percent of what we're adding to the grid. And the remainder of course is natural gas," said John Hall, Texas Clean Energy Director with the Environmental Defense Fund.

Hall is talking about recent studies that predict that in just the next five years, more than half of the 18 coal-burning power plants in Texas will have shut down.

Federal data shows no state has more new natural gas power plants slated to be constructed in the next couple of years than Texas. A good number of the projects are located in East and South Texas near natural gas wells. Those wells are producing so much natural gas that a couple of Houston-based companies are building pipelines to send some of it into Mexico to fuel their power plants.

Natural gas burns cleaner than coal and when combined with non-polluting solar and wind, environmentalists say it'll mean Texas should have little trouble meeting new federal guidelines for clean air.

ERCOT contends the federal government’s Clean Power Plan could raise electricity prices.