The following op-ed ran in this Sunday’s Waco Tribune-Herald discussing Luminant’s plans to build new natural gas plants at Lake Creek and Tradinghouse.
For more than six decades, Luminant has had a presence in McLennan County as part of our deep commitment to meet the electric power demands of our growing state. A natural gas plant at our Lake Creek site near Riesel became operational in 1953. Another gas plant at Tradinghouse Lake went online in 1970. Both plants were important assets in powering Texas till they were retired six to seven years ago and the sites cleared.
Just like our predecessor companies that built those plants in the mid-20th century, Luminant shares the vision of planning for the future so our state has reliable affordable power to remain a great place to live, work and grow. That’s why we’re developing plans to potentially build new natural gas plants at Lake Creek and Tradinghouse. The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality has already granted air permits to build two 230-megawatt simple-cycle combustion turbines at each site for a total of 460 megawatts at both locations.
In 2015, Luminant applied to amend the Tradinghouse air permit to allow the option of converting the two simple-cycle turbines to what’s called combined-cycle capability in which a common steam turbine is added at approximately 350 megawatts. We’re also asking for the option there to potentially build two more simple-cycle turbines totaling about 460 megawatts that could run in combined-cycle with a second steam turbine of about 350 megawatts.
If all these units at Tradinghouse were to be built and running in combined-cycle mode, they’d produce approximately 1,620 megawatts of high-efficiency, low-emitting state-of-the-art natural gas-generated electricity. That’s enough to power about 810,000 homes in normal conditions.
McLennan County, the city of Waco and the Greater Waco Chamber of Commerce have had questions about what impact nitrogen oxide emissions from the Tradinghouse plant, if built, might have on the area’s ozone. Vehicles, certain industries and fossil-fueled power plants all release NOx that can lead to ozone forming on hot, sunny days. The national ozone standard is 70 parts per billion as set by the Environmental Protection Agency and the Waco area complies at 67 ppb. Understandably, the local governments and chamber want Waco to stay in compliance. So do we.
Their concerns stemmed from computer modeling by a consultant hired by the Heart of Texas Council of Governments. The consultant plugged in some mistaken assumptions on how the units could operate and the associated emissions impacts if we just ran the four gas turbines without the steam turbines at Tradinghouse. That kind of generation is neither realistic nor economical but would’ve been allowed under the permit amendment if approved.
However, the modeling showed if Tradinghouse ran in full combined-cycle mode as designed, and as it actually would, the ozone impact would be negligible. We shared with the county, city, chamber and Tribune-Herald why the consultant report overestimated the projected ozone impact of the plant because of these inaccuracies.
We’re committed to being good neighbors. We listen. And we work together in the communities our plants call home. So, to address these concerns, we told the TCEQ in April to add a permit limitation that would allow only two of the gas turbines to run in simple-cycle mode at any given time.
Recently, an environmental activist wrote in the Trib opposing construction of the Tradinghouse plant, claiming Texas should no longer rely on fossil-fueled power plants, just renewable energy. Solar and wind have a place in the diverse energy mix that’s powering Texas. But to rely on intermittent forms of generation isn’t realistic. Just this spring, U.S. Interior Secretary Sally Jewell told those who demand fossil fuels remain in the ground that “to say we could shift to 100 percent renewables is naïve.”
In citing cities, such as Georgetown, that plan to purchase 100 percent renewable energy, what this activist doesn’t mention is that such deals are possible only because of dependable generation such as natural gas. Even the mayor of Georgetown acknowledges when there’s not enough wind or sun, his city must buy power from the ERCOT grid where almost 90 percent of the power comes from reliable fuels, such as natural gas.
We’ve made no final decision to build these plants at Tradinghouse and Lake Creek. Market conditions driven by low wholesale power prices just don’t financially support new generation. But more will be needed eventually and, by securing the needed air permits, Luminant wants to be in the position to quickly add new generation when conditions improve.
At Luminant, we’re proud of our stewardship of the air and water. All of our existing plants meet or exceed all the environmental rules and laws of our state and nation. And should we be granted the permit amendment we’re seeking and build at Tradinghouse, we can assure the people of McLennan County the affordable power generated there will use the best technology, emissions controls and, importantly, be dependable to keep up with the power demands of a growing Texas.