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Plans for Gibbons Creek Steam Electric Station Still Unclear

"Gibbons Creek last ran in 2018, ...

with TMPA deciding in 2019 to stop using it all together

as gas prices dropped, making it difficult for a coal plant to compete."

"... BTU WILL NOT purchase power

from it (sic - Gibbons Creek coal-burning power plant)

since BTU’s resource planning studies show that

there are other 'more economically attractive options for us.'” 

The future of the Gibbons Creek Steam Electric Station remains in question as the Texas Municipal Power Agency and a potential buyer continue negotiations. 

Community members opposed to the possible sale cite concerns about negative environmental and health effects of reopening the Grimes County coal-powered plant. 

Gibbons Creek last ran in 2018, TMPA General Manager Bob Kahn said, with TMPA deciding in 2019 to stop using it all together as gas prices dropped, making it difficult for a coal plant to compete. 

Two petitions against reopening the plant have garnered more than 1,700 signatures within less than a month. Last week, a virtual panel discussion brought together a myriad of opponents of the plant, including Texas A&M University professors and organizers and attendees from groups including the College Station Chapter of Citizens’ Climate Lobby and the Sierra Club.

Natalie Johnson, A&M associate professor of environmental and occupational health, researches health effects of air pollution. She spoke at the panel about the pollutants released into the air at coal-powered plants and the adverse health consequences — including heart disease and lung cancer — people nearby often experience as a result.  

“It’s well known from hundreds of scientific publications that coal is not clean,” Johnson said. “People that work and live nearby are known to be at risk of dying prematurely. … This isn’t just a politically biased issue, and it shouldn’t be, because it’s an issue about people, about their health and about their lives.”

TMPA — which is owned by the cities of Bryan, Denton, Garland and Greenville — tried to sell the 420-megawatt, approximately 6,500-acre station to Clean Energy Technology Association in 2016. Kahn said the sale fell through, as did a 2019 attempt that Kahn said didn’t make it far enough in the process to become public. 

Kahn said he could not comment on whom TMPA is currently negotiating with. 

The Electric Reliability Council of Texas’ June Generator Interconnection Status Report lists the plant with an in-service date of Nov. 1, meaning that it is expected to be commercially operable by that date. In the report, TEERP Power Station LLC is listed as the “interconnecting entity” for Gibbons Creek. ERCOT is the state’s electricity grid manager.

ERCOT spokesperson Leslie Sopko said in an interview that the in-service date is the time in which the developer said they would be commercially available, meaning they could participate in ERCOT’s wholesale energy market and could provide power if they chose to. However, she said ERCOT cannot speculate on what the developer will do and said that the date could also change at the developer’s request.

A May statement from the Sierra Club against reopening the plant cites S&P Global Market Intelligence as saying that the prospective buyer is Frontier Applied Sciences, a technology development firm based in Arizona. Frontier Applied Sciences could not be reached for comment. 

In response to a question about whether it is normal for a potential buyer to start certain steps with ERCOT such as the interconnection process before a purchase is confirmed, Sopko said that the developer satisfied the requirement for proof of on-site control as outlined in the ERCOT planning guide. 

“This basically means that the developer has provided required documentation related to the property that the plant is located on,” Sopko said. “This particular request is unique in that most interconnection requests we receive are for projects that have not yet been built or for upgrades to existing plants.”

The timeline for each project varies depending on their specific circumstances, Sopko said via email. The interconnection process typically takes one to two years for new projects, she said, due to the planning studies needed to connect them to the grid. ERCOT received the interconnection request for Gibbons Creek on March 29. Sopko said that since Gibbons is a recently retired plant, many of the technical studies did not need to be updated. Additionally, she said Gibbons obtained valid air permits and submitted proof of adequate water supplies for generation. 

“So while the timeline may appear to be condensed,” Sopko explained, “we are following the same process as we do for all new projects in ERCOT.”

Kahn said part of TMPA’s motivation to sell the plant is due to the high price of meeting environmental standards needed to decommission the plant. 

“If in the end we don’t sell it,” Kahn said, “then the rate-payers end up paying all the costs.” 

With the plant being closed since 2018, Kahn said some deadlines for steps associated with decommissioning are approaching at the end of this year.

Bryan Texas Utilities General Manager Gary Miller said that for a sale to be finalized, it would need approval from the TMPA Board, the BTU Board, and then all four city councils of Bryan, Denton, Garland and Greenville. Miller said that leaders would need to weigh all the factors — from costs of keeping the plant versus selling it and community concerns — before making a decision on what to do. 

If the power plant is reopened, Miller said that BTU WILL NOT purchase power from it since BTU’s resource planning studies show that there are other “more economically attractive options for us.” 

The petitions against reopening the plant have been presented to TMPA, BTU and the city councils of Bryan, Denton, Garland and Greenville, according to a press release from residents opposing the plant.

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