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2067Re: [hreg] Coal and Houston

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  • Leonard Bachman
    Jul 3, 2003
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      Michael,
      I once heard a knowledgable estimate that it would take a coal train one
      mile long arriving every hour in Houston to furnish all our regional
      electricity generation. That was in the day when we were trying to save all
      the natural gas for direct residential use, assuming that industry could buy
      and process other forms of energy.
      Leonard Bachman

      ----- Original Message -----
      From: "Michael Christie" <mchristi@...>
      To: <hreg@yahoogroups.com>
      Sent: Thursday, July 03, 2003 10:45 AM
      Subject: RE: [hreg] Coal and Houston


      > Mark,
      >
      > I vote to give you the title of "HREG Coal Guru". You certainly brought a
      > lot of interesting and relevant information to the group. And, you
      answered
      > my question. It may very well have been this plant that my source of
      > information was referring to. Many people, myself included, are rather
      loose
      > in our definition of "Houston". And as you can see, we are not all well
      > informed.
      >
      > Thank you
      > Michael Christie
      >
      > -----Original Message-----
      > From: mark r. johnson [mailto:mrj53@...]
      > Sent: Thursday, July 03, 2003 7:47 AM
      > To: hreg@yahoogroups.com
      > Subject: [hreg] Coal and Houston
      >
      >
      > --- In hreg@yahoogroups.com, "Michael Christie" <mchristi@f...> wrote:
      > > ...
      > > Someone in the railroad industry once told me that 100 rail cars of
      > coal
      > > came into Houston every day.
      >
      > Let me try to shed a little light on the few areas where I have some
      > good knowledge. The Houston region has exactly ONE coal burning plant,
      > the W.A. Parish unit located I think in Wharton. It is fed by low
      > sulfur Wyoming coal transported by rail. Literally speaking, there is
      > absolutely no need for coal rail cars to pass into or through Houston,
      > they will go to Fort Bend County instead.
      >
      > It is a sizable portion of the old HL&P's generating capacity, larger
      > in fact than the nuclear portion. But it was designed and built in the
      > old regulated era where they sought coal and nuclear fuel to reduce
      > dependence on natural gas. For a time there were laws on the books
      > prohibiting the building of power plants which used natural gas, that
      > is the main reason we are saddled with not-so-well conceived coal and
      > nuclear plants. HL&P for many years was 100% natural gas fueled, left
      > to their own devices they might not have ever wanted to diversify into
      > nuclear and coal.
      >
      > One weak point of the Parish coal plant concept, was a limited number
      > of rail lines coming into the plant. After some railroad mergers,
      > there was *one* remaining company serving Parish, and as you might
      > guess they had a rather harsh idea of shipping rates. After a couple
      > years of this, HL&P built another short rail line so they could have
      > at least a competitive market shipping them their needed fuel.
      >
      > Utilities in Central Texas and North Texas make relatively extensive
      > use of lignite, an indigenous type of coal which is cheap, not low
      > sulfur, low in energy content per pound, and therefore not worth
      > transporting. The only really good way to burn lignite is to build a
      > power plant very close to the lignite mining, ideally at the mouth of
      > the mine. Economics of lignite depend on the quantity and quality of
      > fuel available -- electricity from such can be relatively very cheap
      > if you have a good lignite source (and don't invest too heavily in
      > anti-pollution equipment).
      >
      > The old HL&P also built one lignite plant in Central Texas near Waco.
      > What I have heard is their fuel source is mediocre, a thin vein which
      > is not expected to last but about 25-30 years. This plant's economics
      > would be much improved except for the lousy fuel source. It is my
      > understanding that many other lignite plants in Texas are more
      > economical.
      >
      > With a slow trend toward competition in the energy industry, we should
      > watch to see whether the coal or the lignite plant might be shut down
      > for cost reasons.
      >
      > I used to work for HL&P and so learned of many of these things through
      > office communication and publications which are not widely
      > distributed. FWIW my opinion is that coal is inherently a loathsome
      > fuel to burn vs. natural gas, because of coal's pollution aspects.
      > Natural gas is inherently a pretty clean fuel as the great majority of
      > the non-fuel parts are removed at the wellhead. To me the trade-off
      > between burning coal which is nearly always cheap but dirty, vs.
      > natural gas, is a devilish temptation. One might realistically say the
      > worst natural gas plant is cleaner than the best coal plant.
      >
      > I am interested in all forms of energy including renewables, but I
      > will always be able to
      > articulate the virtues of certain non-renewable fuels.
      >
      > Hope this helps -- Mark Johnson
      >
      >
      >
      >
      >
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