Sierra Club: idling of Martin Lake Unit 3 a sign of the coal times

Energy Future Holdings has notified Texas grid operators of its plans to idle operations at Unit 3 at the Martin Lake coal-fired power plant, which had the Sierra Club celebrating in a Sept. 17 statement.

The club said that the company’s plan further demonstrates the “incredible” growth in clean wind energy in Texas is pushing out older, more expensive forms of power generation. Even temporarily closing Unit 3 will significantly reduce mercury, carbon, sulfur and smog-forming air pollution in East Texas, the club added.

“Energy Future Holdings and their Luminant coal plants are struggling to compete with the low costs of wholesale electricity from the Texas wind boom,” said Al Armendariz, senior campaign representative for the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal Campaign. “Inefficient lignite coal plants from the 1970’s, like the Martin Lake plant, are relics from a bygone era.”

In 2013 there are 10,570 MW of installed wind capacity in Texas, the most of any state, and the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) is forecasting statewide wind capacity to grow to 17,000 MW by 2016, the club  noted. Wind power now provides more than 10% of all Texas electricity each year, and for several months provides more than one-third of all electricity in the Lone Star state. As wind developments expand, prices will continue to drop, putting additional pressure on Energy Future Holdings’ other coal-fired power plants in East Texas, the club said.

Luminant spokesman Brad Watson said in a Sept. 18 email to GenerationHub that on Sept. 12, Luminant filed with ERCOT a Notice of Suspension of Operations for Martin Lake Unit 3. This suspension represents approximately 750 MW of capacity. This filing did not include the combined 1,500 MW from Martin Lake Units 1 and 2, whose operations are unaffected by this announcement.

The date of the seasonal suspension will begin on or before mid-December 2013, as approved by ERCOT, and the unit will be available for commercial dispatch by June 1, 2014, in time for the peak demand months in the summer of 2014, Watson noted.

“The operation of our lignite/coal units have been significantly challenged, primarily due to persistently low wholesale power prices,” Watson wrote. “As a competitive market participant whose primary business is generating and selling wholesale power on the wholesale market, we want to operate as much of our generation as we can, but it does not make economic sense to operate a unit at a financial loss. Martin Lake unit 3 was selected to operate seasonally based on a number of factors including that it has a separate control room and fuel yard from Martin Lake units 1 and 2; and, with a major outage planned for the spring of 2014, we will be able to more cost-effectively manage the outage. ERCOT will now have 60 days to determine if these units are needed for transmission reliability prior to June 2014. This is similar to our seasonal operations plan at Monticello units 1 and 2 and to what other companies in the market have done with certain units.”

About Barry Cassell 20414 Articles
Barry Cassell is Chief Analyst for GenerationHub covering coal and emission controls issues, projects and policy. He has covered the coal and power generation industry for more than 24 years, beginning in November 2011 at GenerationHub and prior to that as editor of SNL Energy’s Coal Report. He was formerly with Coal Outlook for 15 years as the publication’s editor and contributing writer, and prior to that he was editor of Coal & Synfuels Technology and associate editor of The Energy Report. He has a bachelor’s degree from Central Michigan University.