The use of coal to generate electricity in Texas continues to slide. Just ten years ago, half of the electricity in Texas came from the burning of coal. Today, coal only contributes 20%.
Why the huge drop off? The two main factors are natural gas and wind energy, with solar and hydro also playing a part.
Texas is by far the largest producer of natural gas in the U.S., more than doubling the production of the #2 state, Pennsylvania. Texas is now producing so much natural gas, that a pipeline is being built that will send a significant amount of natural gas to Mexico to be used by their electricity generators.
Texas also produces more electricity via wind energy than any other state. There have already been days when the state saw more electricity produced from wind than from coal.
It is expected that by 2020, more than half of all coal-burning power plants in Texas will be shuttered.
The world’s largest carbon capture facility is coming to Texas. The US Department of Energy has announced that work will soon begin a project to capture up to 90% of the carbon emissions from the W.A, Parish Generating Station; a coal-fired power plant southwest of Houston Texas. Once captured, the CO2 will be pumped underground at the West Ranch oil field.
Pumping the CO2 underground will serve two purposes. By injecting CO2 into pockets of hard to extract oil, the oil is liberated in a way that makes it easier to extract. The process also results in the CO2 being sequestered underground rather than being released into the atmosphere.
The CO2 will be captured by processing the power plant’s exhaust gas through a solution of amines. The amines will bind with the Co2 allowing it to be separated from the sulfates. Later the amine solution will be heated; a process which releases the CO2. The amine is recycled while the CO2 is pressurized and piped to the oil field where it will be used to help extract the hard to reach oil.
The West Ranch oil field, which has been in operation for over 75 years, has seen its production rates fall through conventional production techniques. The carbon dioxide will reduce the oil’s viscosity and force it out of tight spots where it can be more easily extracted. The oil will them be processed to remove any CO2 that has become mixed with the oil. The CO2 can then be re-injected into the ground.
The size of the project was scaled up from original plans and will now entail capturing the CO2 from 240 MW of electricity production, making it the largest such operation in the world. The DOE will be providing financial assistance for the project, whose principals include a subsidiary of NRG Energy. NRG Energy is the parent company of Reliant Energy, a Texas electricity provider.
Although coal has long been the predominate source of electricity generation in the U.S., it has seen its market share slide in recent years as the abundance of cheap natural gas has created a cheaper and cleaner alternative. In Texas, the natural gas boom has helped electricity rates fall substantially since their highs in 2008.
See Also: U.S. / Texas Oil Reserves At Highest Levels In Decades
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Water scarcity continues to be a concern for the Texas electricity grid. In the United States, energy production is responsible for about half of the water use across the country. Plants that produce energy through the use of fossil fuels and nuclear fusion need to be continually cooled with a constant water supply. If the water is not available, then the plant cannot be online. When this happens, plants have to be shut down and power production is lost. If enough power plants go offline, the entire Texas power grid could topple.
In Texas, the hot weather in the summer can stretch the state’s limited fresh water supplies. That drought cannot simply be stemmed by importing water from other parts of the country. Water is required to produce electricity, and lack of water could easily result in power outages for the state’s strained electrical grid.
Texas can have especially dry hot summers, which lower water supplies just as electricity demand peaks. There are concerns coming from ERCOT, the Texas regulatory commission responsible for the state’s electricity grid, that the water supply could be depleted or energy production might not reach the levels of demand because of a lack of water.
Studies have shown that greater efficiency in energy production can reduce the need for water to be used as a coolant. The U.S. Department of Energy does not have a policy regarding water use for energy production, but some forms of energy production are more efficient than others.
For example, a plant that uses natural gas to produce energy converts two-thirds of the gas it uses into energy. This results in less waste than from a plant that is fired by coal. Renewable energies tend to have even less water demand. However, despite leading the country in wind energy production. Texas still gets a relatively small percentage of its power from renewable energy sources.
Cheap natural gas has not only brought down electricity rates in Texas, but has managed to displace coal as a source of power generation. This tends to have a positive impact on the state’s water issues but serious challenges remain with regard to the state’s water and energy needs.
See Also: Texas Gets Its First 100% Solar Energy Electricity Plan
See Also: Microsoft Makes Large Texas Wind Power Purchase
See Also: Water And Energy: A Double Dilemma In Texas
A troubled coal burning power plant in western New York could get a new life as a natural gas burning power plant. The facility in Dunkirk should be refitted to burn natural gas according to a study commissioned by the plant’s owners, NRG.
According to NRG the conversion, which would cost about a half billion dollars would result in a 5% reduction in western New York electricity rates. Across the entire state ratepayers could see a 2% reduction in electricity costs as a result of the plant being repurposed.
According to the report, the switch would reduce the state’s dependence on higher cost electricity and eliminate the need for a proposed $2.2 billion project to import power from Quebec to New York City.
The New York power market is beginning to experience a taste of what Texas has been dealing with for a while. An oversupply of natural gas has brought about cheap electricity rates making it more difficult for energy producers to make money; especially with coal burning power plants. The power plant in Dunkirk faces shutdown in 2015 if NRG doesn’t take drastic steps such as the conversion to natural gas.
Once practically the only game in town for electricity, coal is rapidly loosing its position to natural gas. The EPA has aggressively gone after coal in recent years with new rules that have added substantially to the cost of coal energy. The combination of free market dynamics and regulatory overhead for coal has shifted the economic equation in favor of natural gas.
The study suggests that New York rate payer will save an estimated $142 million per year as a result of the lower wholesale electricity prices. If the decision is made to pursue the conversation, it could also mean a jobs boost to the region. According to the company, such a project would result in about 1,200 new jobs.