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West Texas City to Give Proposed Coal Plant Water

Wed, 07/13/2011 - 7:13am
RAMIT PLUSHNICK-MASTI,Associated Press

HOUSTON (AP) — A West Texas town agreed Tuesday to sell much-needed water to a company that wants to build a coal-fired power plant, even though environmental groups argue the arid area can't spare the resource.

The unanimous vote by the Stamford City Council brings Tenaska Inc. a step closer to its goal of building the plant. But the vote also highlighted the problems the Omaha, Neb.-based energy company — and several others like it — are facing as they try to meet the future energy needs of Texas' booming population.

Environmental groups argue that the state should focus on looking for alternative energy sources that require less water and pollute less. Texas has 19 coal-fired power plants, more than any other state, and nine more in various stages of development.

Several of the proposed plants are having difficulties getting the water they would need to run the facilities. Last month, the Lower Colorado River Authority delayed a decision on whether to sell water to another proposed plant in South Texas.

With Stamford's approval, Tenaska will have access to about 250 million gallons of water a year — only a portion of what it will need to run its proposed power plant, said Helen Manroe, the company's director of development.

The company still needs to find hundreds of millions of gallons more water and needs to go through an appeal process on its air permit before construction can begin. In addition, it is waiting to see what federal incentives there will be for a carbon sequestration system it's proposing, one that would allow the plant to capture 90 percent of the carbon dioxide that would otherwise enter the atmosphere and then sell it to enhance oil production in other parts of Texas.

Tenaska had met fierce opposition when it tried to get water from Abilene, a town not far from Stamford. Then it found that Sweetwater, not far from where the plant is to be built, did not have enough quality water to be a primary provider, Manroe said. But the company believes there is enough water available to build and operate the plant.

"It's very important for us to come up with water agreements that are sustainable over the long-term," Manroe said. "We have to find a source that will provide us water and meet the future needs of the municipality or else we'll be out of business."

The proposed plant, Manroe said, would also operate with a dry cooling system that reduces the amount of water the plant uses from some 12 million gallons a day to 1 million gallons.

Jeff Haseltine, a resident of Abilene, Texas who has been a vocal opponent of the Tenaska facility, said increased sedimentation of lakes in West Texas — which reduce the surface area of the reservoirs — and the region's typically dry conditions mean there is not enough water to sell to a power plant.

"We don't think there's excessive water available to sell to Tenaska," Haseltine said.

Manroe said the agreement with Stamford requires Tenaska to take the sedimentation risk, which would force the company to decide in the future whether it would want to dredge the lake and increase the water volume or look for alternative sources.

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