ERCOT says Luminant can shut two Monticello power units

Planning for Texas’ energy future must include drought proofing our energy supply with energy efficiency and renewable energy, not propping up old dirty fossil fuel plants.  To that end, we applaud the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT – the Texas electric grid operator) for calling Luminant’s bluff to shut down the aging Monticello coal fired plant in North Texas, and finding that we don’t need to pay a premium to run one of Texas dirtiest coal plants to keep the air conditioners running.

In October of this year, the EPA announced new regulations (called the Cross-State Air Pollution Rule or CSAPR) to reduce air pollution from industrial facilities like coal-fired power plants on downwind communities. Prior to the release of this new rule, TXU/Luminant, the largest power generating company in Texas, blamed the impending EPA regulations for job losses and subsequently announced it would be shutting down two of its coal units at Monticello.

Three Texas Luminant plants (Monticello, Martin Lake, and Big Brown) are some of the dirtiest coal plants in the country, and would be impacted by any new air pollution rules the federal government might impose.  But compared to other coal plants, these three plants alone are:

  • 46.8% of all Texas coal plant      emissions (19 existing coal plants)
  • 41.5% of all Texas coal plant SO2      emissions
  • 36.0% of all Texas coal plant PM-10      emissions
  • 30.6% of all Texas coal plant NOx      emissions
  • 71.7% of all Texas coal plant CO2      emissions

and by all
rights should clean up their act or shut down.  However, a report from TR Rose Associates shows in detail how Luminant’s shuttering of these coal plants is most likely due to poor financial management rather than regulation of their air quality emissions.

Right now in Texas, the drought and the expected heat wave next summer is far more of a problem than U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) rules for water intensive plants like coal and nuclear electric generation plants.  If we are to keep the lights on next summer, the Governor, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality and the Public Utility Commission of Texas should develop a plan to use energy more wisely and efficiently during the summer and not worry about the shuttering of dirty old coal plants.

After receiving notice that Luminant, had filed a Notification of Suspension of Operations for Monticello Units 1 and 2, ERCOT – the grid operator – had to make a determination about whether it was okay for Luminant to retire the units rather than idle them so that ERCOT could call on them to run in a grid emergency.  This is what ERCOT calls a “Reliability Must Run” (RMR) status determination.  An RMR status for the old Monticello units would have meant that Luminant might have been getting paid a premium to run these units at full capacity next summer, with almost no limits placed upon the type or amount of emissions during that activity, the implications for Dallas/Ft Worth’s air quality would probably have been significant.

According to a release by ERCOT, “As required by Protocol Section 3.14.1(1), ERCOT has completed its analysis and determined that Monticello Units 1 and 2 are not needed to support ERCOT transmission System reliability (i.e., voltage support, stability or management of localized transmission constraints under first contingency criteria). ERCOT, in coordination with Oncor, has identified Pre-Contingency Action Plans (PCAPs) and Remedial Action Plans (RAPs) which will be used to ensure transmission security without the need for RMR Agreements associated with these Resources. . . Based upon this final determination, the Resources may cease or suspend operations according to the schedule in their Notice of Suspension of Operations.”

So to recap:

  • Luminant threatens to shut down its two old units at Monticello coal-fired generating plant and blames the new EPA Cross State Air Pollution Rules.
  • A report from TR Rose Associates shows Luminant’s shuttering of these coal plants is most likely due to poor financial management rather than regulation of their air quality emissions.
  • ERCOT determines that these Monticello units are NOT needed to maintain grid stability.

Luminant 0 : State of Texas 2