SAN ANTONIO – A recent report by the Electric Reliability Council of Texas said power companies in Texas are increasingly turning away from the use of coal to generate electricity in favor of more natural gas, solar and wind generators.
Warren Lasher, ERCOT's director of system planning, said coal has always been in demand in Texas for power generation.
"Coal currently provides just under 40 percent of our energy usage on an annual basis," Lasher said. "That is likely to decline. We don't see any significant interest in new coal units in the interconnection process here at ERCOT."
Lasher said that expected decline is because of federal air pollution regulations that make it more costly. He said power companies currently using coal-fired plants may have to retrofit the plants to curb air pollution, a process that costs millions of dollars.
"Right now, it doesn't look like coal is an economically viable resource on the grid," Lasher said.
A case in point is CPS Energy's Dealey coal-fired power plants, which are being retired in 2018 -- 15 years earlier than planned.
John Bonnin, CPS Energy's operations director, said it is a matter of economics.
"One of the reasons is that we were facing some very expensive capital upgrades to keep them compliant with EPA regulations," Bonnin said.
Replacing coal on the grid for many power companies includes turning more to wind and solar power.
Lasher said in just three years, the amount of wind energy produced in Texas will almost double what's produced today. He said right now there are just over 11,000 megawatts of wind resources connected to the ERCOT grid and several thousand more are planned.
"You see natural gas projects, you see wind projects and you see solar projects," Lasher said. "That's where most of the interest is."
And more wind-generated power equals less pollution.
"The combustion of coal has about twice as much CO2 emissions as the combustion of natural gas, for instance," Bonnin said.
He said CPS Energy has embraced wind and solar power.
"CPS is a leader in wind and solar," Bonnin said. "We use more wind power than any other company in Texa. We're the No. 1 in solar. Sustainable Texas resources with zero fuel exposure."
Lasher said that all adds up to less pollution and that means less chance of oversight in Texas by the Environmental Protection Agency.