Texas: Drought could close three power plants

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Updated: Thursday, Aug. 31, 2000 at 22:20 CDT

Drought could close three power plants, state says By R.A. Dyer Star-Telegram Austin bureau

AUSTIN -- The state's ongoing drought ultimately could close three West Texas power plants and hamper electricity production statewide, according to a new state report.

Consumers don't risk blackouts, but the report warns that more rainless days could lead to higher bills for customers of the West Texas plants. At the earliest, one of the plants could shut down by November, according to the report.

"If these drought conditions continue, other generating stations as well as other regions will begin to feel the effects of reduced generation capacity and higher costs," says the report, issued last month by the state's Drought Preparedness Council, a task force representing 13 agencies.

The drought can reduce power supplies because plants typically draw water from lakes and reservoirs to use in their cooling system. Drops in water levels can prompt either a slowdown at plants or a complete shutdown.

According to the report, TXU does not expect the drought to affect power supplies in the Metroplex. American Electric Power/West Texas Utilities, which operates about 11 plants statewide, could face a shutdown of three plants around San Angelo and Abilene.

But Steve Williams, a spokesman for American Electric Power/West Texas Utilities, said that even if the imperiled plants cease operations, the company can buy replacement power on the open market. Such power typically costs more, although Williams could not project the effect on a ratepayer.

West Texas Utilities, which serves about 184,000 customers in 56 counties, is looking for ways to prevent the shutdowns. The three plants -- Oak Creek Power Station near San Angelo, and the Fort Phantom Hill and Paint Creek Power Stations near Abilene -- provide about 1 percent of the total electric generation of the state's principal power grid.

"All three of these plants, like most power plants in the United States, produce power that goes into the power grid," Williams said. "It wouldn't put people out of power. If the Oak Creek plant goes, people who live near it wouldn't even know it."

Without rainfall, the Oak Creek plant, the smallest of the three, could shut down by November, the report says. It also noted that the plant faces a reduction in electric generation by October or November.

The Phantom Hill Station, the largest of the three, could face a reduction of power output by spring, the report says. It notes that the company has considered installing cooling towers to help offset the effects of the drought.

Water levels also continue their decline at Lake Stamford, which feeds the Paint Creek plant. Without rain, the report states, the plant would reduce power output during the last quarter of this year, and cease operations six months later.

Jim Calloway, the Public Utility Commission engineer who wrote the utility portion of the report, said that while the drought has had a relatively severe effect on the three West Texas Utilities plants, it could affect more power stations in Texas.


-- Martin Thompson (mthom1927@aol.com), September 01, 2000

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