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Clean Power texans organize against new coal power plants

Published on November 7th, 2011 | by Tina Casey


Texas Ranchers Battle New Enemy: Coal

November 7th, 2011 by  

texans organize against new coal power plantsCoal is the new face of conflict for Texas ranchers. In that drought-stricken state, the water-sucking propensities of coal fired power plants are replacing any enemy Hollywood could ever dream of – even the dreaded fence-erecting farmer. The Boston Globe is reporting that ranchers, along with shrimpers, rice farmers and residents concerned about dwindling water resources, are rising up in organized opposition to new coal fired power plants. As a movement, that’s quite a turnaround for an apparently conservative state, so let’s pick that apart and see what’s going on.

Wind Power an Alternative to Coal in Texas

The most important factor is that Texans have a clear alternative sitting, literally, right in their backyards. Texas is an ideal state for wind power and coal is not the only fuel being pushed out of Texas by the force of wind (ha ha sorry, couldn’t resist); the water-dependent nuclear industry is also starting to back out of plans for new construction in the state. With wind power already relatively cheap and due to be even cheaper thanks to government-supported research, it’s not a stretch to oppose a new coal fired power plant in one’s neighborhood, regardless of whether or not abundant water is at hand. The water rich state of Washington, to cite one example, is closing its only coal fired power plant primarily due to public health concerns and the availability of alternatives.

Drought, Climate Change and Coal in Texas

Texas ranchers are also bearing the brunt of a historic drought. This is a climate change effect that experts have been predicting for years, and its impact on water supply will be exacerbated by a projected increase in population in the coming years. However, as Boston Globe reporter Ramit Plushnick-Masti points out, you can be a hard core climate change denialist and still organize against a new coal fired power plant in your community. He cites the example of a new plant under consideration that would impact water supplies for nearby oyster and shrimp nurseries, as well as a number of large ranches, bringing out opposition from the local Chamber of Commerce among others.

Community Pride and Wind Power

Added to the mix is the fact that Texas imports most of its coal, and you can eventually hand a win to the ranchers. Texas certainly does not have a monopoly on home-state pride but it does have a reputation for being outsized in everything, and wind power has a long and iconic history in the state dating back to its inception.  Home-state energy independence could emerge as a powerful public relations weapon on the side of organized opposition to new coal plants. As a counterargument the coal industry touts jobs at coal fired power plants, but wind power projects like the Farmers City Wind Power Project in Missouri demonstrate that jobs and local economic development can just as easily follow wind as coal, so that argument just doesn’t hold water (sorry!!!).

Image Credit: Wind power in Texas, some rights reserved by CopperCatStudios.

Twitter: @TinaMCasey

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About the Author

specializes in military and corporate sustainability, advanced technology, emerging materials, biofuels, and water and wastewater issues. Tina’s articles are reposted frequently on Reuters, Scientific American, and many other sites. Views expressed are her own. Follow her on Twitter @TinaMCasey and Google+.

  • Any thorium in Texas? China wants to know.

  • TexasOnMyMind

    Not being a fan of coal myself, I had hoped upon reading the headline to this article that it might contain real, factual information. Instead, we get more of the same, comically ignorant leftwing drivel.

    The thought that hopelessly unreliable wind farms are somehow a viable, scalable alternative to Texas’ 19 coal-fired power plants is so laughably unrealistic that it really doesn’t even deserve serious consideration. The only scalable, reliable, price-competitive alternative to coal power in Texas or anywhere else is natural gas. Given that Texas produces about 30% of the nation’s natural gas each year, it’s an obvious answer to the problem.

    • Anonymous

      You can love on that natural gas all you like, but remember that it’s going to pour CO2 into the atmosphere and cause temperatures to rise, droughts to expand. And I doubt that you, having Texas on your mind, needs to be reminded what higher temperatures and stronger droughts are like.

      Wind doesn’t blow 24/365, but you’ve got places in Texas where the wind blows a heck of a lot of the time. Why not take advantage of that free and cheap to harvest energy? Use wind when the wind blows. Fill in the gaps with natural gas while we develop storage solutions.

      Oh, and don’t forget solar. The price of solar harvesting is dropping rapidly. System prices are already below your average wholesale power cost and once the panels are paid off they will give you decades of almost free electricity. Just imagine what your utility bill would be like if electricity cost a penny a kWh for the sunny hours.

      Use natural gas wisely. It’s a good bridge technology to get coal plants shut down quickly. Then it’s a good backup for wind and solar while we wait for something even better to develop.

  • Chip Stander

    Your argument does not hold water so to speak. Water Use by thermal generation in Texas accounts for 1.2% of ground water use and 1.9% of surface water use. There are many reasons to move away from fossil fueled generation, but water use is hardly one of them. Irrigation uses over 50% of water in Texas and simple water management techniques could save much more water than the total thermal generation use.

  • Ed

    Ironic that “natural economic” forces are reshaping the change over to alternative energy. Just wish that it would be happening faster. Coal, though we owe it a great debt it is now time to save the remaining “low quality” (almost all of the ‘hard’ high quality anthracite coal was mined out years ago) for better uses than burning it and releasing a lot more than just CO2 into the atmosphere. Mercury and arsenic being the worst but a fist full of other “pollutants” are also released. Lets get serious with wind and solar (wind is actually solar but that is a different story) and move more rapidly toward a “clean” energy future or suffer the consequences of inaction.

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