It’s time to shut down the WA Parish coal plant

A coal-fired power plant south of Houston wants to renew its permit to pollute and local residents are saying enough is enough. 

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Catherine Fraser
Clean Air Associate

Author: Catherine Fraser

Clean Air Associate

(612) 963-0228

Started on staff: 2019
B.A. with honors, Colby College

Catherine works on Environment Texas' Clean Air Project, working to reduce illegal air pollution from industrial facilities across the state. Catherine lives in Austin, where she enjoys playing soccer, reading, and exploring Austin's live music and food scene.

A coal-fired power plant south of Houston wants to renew its permit to pollute and local residents are saying enough is enough. 

Located in Fort Bend County, WA Parish is the largest coal-fired power plant in Texas, and is the ninth-largest CO2-emitting coal plant in the United States. On top of climate-changing pollution, WA Parish also emits the second most sulfur dioxide of all the coal-fired power plants in Texas in 2017, emitting eight times the amount produced by all Houston-area refineries combined, according to a 2015 report by the Sierra Club. Sulfur dioxide contributes to soot pollution and can cause harm to the respiratory and cardiovascular systems. According to a recent Rice University study, every year that the WA Parish coal plant continues to operate as it has been, this soot pollution causes an estimated 177 people to die prematurely. 

In a show of support for a greener future, NRG recently pledged to cut carbon emissions by 50 percent by 2025, signed a contract with the city of Houston to meet the city’s commitment to 100% renewable energy, and co-sponsored the city’s Climate Week. Yet, despite their climate commitments, NRG’s WA Parish plant is a dark spot on the green image they’re working to build. 

NRG recently announced they’re mothballing their Petra Nova carbon capture project, the world’s largest post-combustion carbon capture and sequestration facility, which captured 90% of carbon dioxide emissions at one of WA Parish’s eight coal- and natural gas-powered units, which accounts for less than 9% of the overall coal capacity of the plant. The project suffered from some mechanical problems and outages since it went online in 2017, missing carbon capture targets by about 17%, and now, with Petra Nova offline, carbon dioxide emissions are likely to return to levels seen before the NRG built the Petra Nova plant. The Petra Nova plant was an expensive federal and private project that ignores an ever-emerging truth: coal is dirty and economically unsound. ‘Clean coal’ is misleading. We should be doing everything we can to transition away from dirty fuels to clean energy.

Environment Texas recently joined with community members, advocates, and partner organizations in sending a letter to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) requesting a public meeting and a contested case hearing in response to NRG Energy’s application for a renewal of an air permit for their WA Parish coal-fired power plant. We want to know what additional environment and public health impacts may result from a renewed permit at the WA Parish plant.

We need to shut down the leading source of climate-changing pollution in Texas; we could save nearly 180 lives each year by doing so. There’s no time to waste, and Environment Texas will work to shut down WA Parish, and transition to a cleaner, greener future.

Gabby Kim, a senior Environmental Policy major at Colby College and a clean air intern with Environment Texas, contributed to this piece.

Photo credit: RM VA via Wikimedia Commons

Photo license: Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International

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Catherine Fraser
Clean Air Associate

Author: Catherine Fraser

Clean Air Associate

(612) 963-0228

Started on staff: 2019
B.A. with honors, Colby College

Catherine works on Environment Texas' Clean Air Project, working to reduce illegal air pollution from industrial facilities across the state. Catherine lives in Austin, where she enjoys playing soccer, reading, and exploring Austin's live music and food scene.