Bay City plant closer to water fix

October 6, 2011 1:37:12 PM PDT
A historic drought in Texas has forced the White Stallion Energy Center to drastically change plans for cooling a proposed coal-fired power plant and shift to a more expensive system that requires far less water to operate, a company executive said Thursday.

Randy Bird, White Stallion's chief operating officer, said it became clear the current drought would prevent the company from securing a supplier for the 8 trillion gallons of water a wet cooling system would require annually. As a result, he said the company had decided to move to a more expensive dry system that would need about 978 million gallons of water a year.

"We've been approached by a number of people looking to sell us that water," Bird told The Associated Press shortly after speaking to residents of Bay City, the town about 75 miles south of Houston where the facility is to be built. "Private landowners and other water right holders, everyone sees an opportunity here."

In fact, the Coastal Plains Groundwater Conservation District is meeting Friday to discuss a private landowner's request to sell 1,199 acre-feet -- or 391 million gallons -- of water to White Stallion annually. That is almost half the 3,000 acre-feet Bird said the dry cooling system would need to operate, and far less than the 25,000 acre-feet the wet system needed.

Ranchers, farmers and other residents have vocally opposed the plans to build the plant in the rural, pristine area, arguing there was not enough water to support the facility and the community's agricultural needs. Many ranchers and farmers in the area fear they may not have enough water next year for their fields and livestock.

In addition, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers this week awarded the plant a permit to build a loading and unloading facility on the Colorado River, Bird said. The plant also received a water quality certification from the Texas Commission of Environmental Quality, and already has an air permit.

Bird said the company did not initially want to use dry cooling towers at the facility, even though they use far less water and are environmentally safer, because of the high cost of building the system. The dry cooling method also means the plant will not reach its full 1,200 net megawatt capacity during the hottest months of the year, he said.

The drought, and the realization that the wet cooling method would force them to pay $55 million to build a reservoir and then $4 million a year to purchase water from the Lower Colorado River Authority made company executives reconsider, Bird said.

"It hasn't rained," Bird said. "It's just going to be very difficult for the LCRA board to vote on a contract whether they have the water or not. It's too political in this drought climate and we just couldn't wait for it to rain."

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