February 22, 2007
A state hearing on controversial plans by Texas energy giant TXU Corp. to build a slew of coal-fired power plants was delayed Wednesday until June 27. The delay sets the stage for possible action in the Legislature, with Austin’s state senator saying he plans to introduce measures dealing with TXU’s plans.In postponing the hearing, two state administrative judges cited a court ruling Tuesday that said Gov. Rick Perry had overstepped his authority in ordering an expedited hearing schedule on TXU’s plans.”I think it is important for us to take some time to reassess the procedural schedule,” said Kerry Sullivan, one of the hearing judges who will make recommendations on the proposal to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality. Coal plant opponents, which include environmental groups and a coalition of Texas cities, said the delay would give them more time to prepare their arguments in a complex, high-stakes case.”This is great news,” said Tom “Smitty” Smith, executive director of Public Citizen’s Texas office. “It allows us to take a deep breath.”TXU spokeswoman Kim Morgan said the company was disappointed by the delay.”Texas needs reliable and affordable power,” she said. “We’re concerned that today’s action slows progress against that objective. Without new generation supplies, older, dirtier, less efficient plants must be brought back online. That could mean higher prices and threatened reliability.”TXU has proposed a $10 billion, five-year plan to build 11 power plants in Texas, saying the state urgently needs more power to meet fast-rising demand and faces power shortages unless the plants are built. The hearing will deal with six of the plants.Opponents say the plants would double TXU’s emissions of carbon dioxide, a chief culprit in global warming.Under the original schedule, the hearings would have taken two weeks, with the recommendations submitted by April. With the additional time, state Sen. Kirk Watson, D-Austin, said he plans to introduce four proposals dealing with the proposed plants.They would include measures directing how the plants would operate; a provision that would require the shutdown of the newest plants if the state fell out of compliance with federal clean air standards; and plans for fast-tracking clean energy projects and promoting statewide energy efficiency.Watson also said he would propose a task force to develop a comprehensive energy plan to meet Texas’ needs.”We have to do a better job of coming up with a process where we identify the gaps between energy supply and demand,” said the former Austin mayor.The state needs an energy plan “so we don’t find ourselves facing fearful choices in the future. Instead we are prepared because we have done the analysis,” he said. “It’s not fair to allow companies asking for a permit to scare the public or environmental agencies . . . by saying Texas will run out of power if you don’t” approve their plants.TXU’s plans have attracted national attention. Seventeen parties will participate in the eventual hearings, including environmental groups and some Texas cities and counties. On Wednesday, the administrative judges added two more: the Chickasaw Nation, which says that pollution from the plants could cross into their lands in Oklahoma, and the Oklahoma Department of Environmental Quality.