Texas and Coal Power 6,000+ MW’s of Coal plant Capacity is missed!


My first assignment to Texas was as a young B&W Results Engineer. I was participating as one of the Results engineers to perform acceptance tests of a large (500 MW class) natural gas fueled boiler at the P.H. Robinson Plant near Houston. That was about 1968. After that involvement I watched with great interest as Texas built dozens of 500-750 MW natural gas and oil fueled plants all across Texas. Built by Foster-Wheeler, Combustion-Engineering and Babcock & Wilcox. Then came the Arab Oil Embargo in 1973 and Texas responded to this true energy crisis with an incredibly successful fuel change to power production changing from oil and gas to Texas and Wyoming coal. The huge build out of coal plants went from the late 1970’s till the mid 1980’s and I was impressed. I had the pleasure of working at many of the coal plants operated by various Texas Utility Companies and what impressed me most was the “Can Do” attitude of Texans. Then about 1978 I became very involved as a Field Engineer to help solve combustion and power generation challenges with ALCOA’s massive Rockdale, Texas Lignite Fueled Power Plant. Also in the mid 1980’s involvement with acceptance testing of the 450 MW Gibbons Creek Coal Plant near College Station.

Why am I writing this? It is because I am perplexed after watching for decades how Texans were so practical and innovative, they became enamored with Renewable Wind and Solar Power to a fault. I was not surprised that California had such foolish policies but found it odd that practical Texas would fall into the trap of too much dependence on unreliable, non dispatchable renewables.

In the 1970’s Texas rallied to successfully change from oil and gas fuel to coal. In 2021-2022 I see Texas rallying again to overcome the problem of over-dependence on renewables.

The Good Old Days of Coal Power and Aluminum Production in Rockdale

Here is how coal power in Texas helped to build some of the most productive aluminum manufacturing in North America. A major contributor to the local economy and manufacturer of critical metals for America at the same time providing over 1600 jobs. A story to document the relationship of reasonable cost energy and economic prosperity.

The following is from the Milam County Archives, 1974:

On November 24, 1952, something strange happened in the small, agriculturally-oriented Central Texas town of Rockdale. A visitor, seemingly from a different world, changed the living habits of its people along with the general tempo and appearance of its community. 

The courting days of the 1950’s has now, nearly 22 years later, turned into a love affair unmatched in many communities between industry and townspeople. 

It began innocently enough. The Korean War was raging on and government needed aluminum to make airplanes. Aluminum Company of America needed a new facility to meet the demand. Rockdale, with its large lignite reserves, was the apple in Alcoa’s eye. 

Thousands of acres of the “Cinderella fuel” nestled beneath the earth’s crust gave rise late in 1951 to the establishment of the aluminum industry in Milam County. Aluminum production demands electric power to break down ore, shipped in from South America, to form the lightweight, corrosion-free metal. 

Demand for the metal by government and this abundance of the electrical energy- producing fuel triggered boom-like industrialization when Alcoa’s multi-million dollar Rockdale Works raced into production only 13 months after groundbreaking. 

Tipping the giant vat to cast the first aluminum ingot were the plant’s first boss (now Alcoa board chairman and chief executive officer) John D. Harper and smelting division manager R. T. Whitzel of Pittsburgh corporate headquarters.

Today, Rockdale Works is Aluminum Company of America’s largest worldwide metal producer with eight potlines and the capacity for turning out 280,000 tons annually or 1.5 million pounds per 24-hour, continuous operation day. 

The original four-potline plant was expanded by two more lines in 1956 and the Central Texas smelter became Alcoa’s largest in 1969 with the addition of the seventh and eighth lines. For the first time, Alcoa began producing more aluminum in Texas than in any other state. Rockdale Works and Point Comfort Operations down on the Gulf Coast have a joint capacity for making 455,000 tons annually. 

Rockdale Works has one of the world’s biggest carbon electrode-making facilities and a diversified ingot plant which converts molten aluminum into extrusion, sheet and remelt ingot. The latter produces everything from a 50-pound to a 22,000-pound product. 

A couple of fabricating facilities further enhanced the company’s local investment in the 1960’s. An atomized aluminum powder unit was built in 1966 and has been expanded twice. It’s now the biggest aluminum powder producer in the U. S. Then came a redraw rod facility in 1968 which spews out “raw material” for Alcoa’s electrical conductor-or wire-fabricating plants, primarily its nearby Marshall (Texas) Works. 

The Rockdale story is like many across the Developed World. Reasonable cost and abundant energy is used to fuel a manufacturing facility with the end result of not only manufacturing vital materials but also contributing to employment, funding the local tax base and infra-structure and more. Energy and Economic prosperity go hand in hand. Now, the four power generating units at Sandow Station are shut down. The Rockdale Plant is for sale and aluminum is no longer manufactured here. It was a great run from 1952 till about 2008 when the Chinese took over the aluminum smelting market.


Recent Shutdown of 6,453+ MW of Coal Capacity

Including the Sandow Plant which was adjacent to the ALCOA Rockdale Plant, there were five other robust, reliable coal plants shutdown. These are:

Sandow 1252 MW, Oklaunion 650 MW, Monticello 1,980 MW, J.T. Deely 932 MW, Big Brown 1,186 MW, TMPA Gibbons Creek 453 MW.

Perhaps the renewable wind and solar power capacity made some folks feel good when it was purchased and installed. I am sure it made the environmental extremists happy to see these coal plants gone. However, the people in the great state of Texas sure could have used the reliable electricity that could have been produced from these plants, had they not been prematurely shut down.

Hayden Ludwig published this short video on the Capital Research web site on more sinister reasons of America’s foolish Green Energy policies: https://capitalresearch.org/article/how-china-designed-american-environmental-policy/

It personally saddens me to see the loss of the aluminum manufacturing in Rockdale which essentially was given up to Chinese aluminum smelting capacity. It saddens me also to see the unneccessary suffering of the people of Texas. The environmental extremists may be happy to have successfully hoodwinked the politicians on the evils of carbon. Perhaps now is the time to account for the costs in the loss of American jobs, economic prosperity, the powering of heat pumps, Refineries and Businesses and often overlooked, contributions to the local schools and government infrastructure & tax base.

Dick Storm

February 19, 2021

All Fuels are important! A review of the Reality of Competitive Electricity Generation and the supply of needed Transportation fuels

The President has re-engaged the Obama Administration “War on Carbon” and signed executive orders to kill pipelines, restrict drilling and production of oil and gas on Federal lands and to rejoin the Paris Climate Agreement. If not rescinded, this will cripple American economic growth and prosperity. For decades I have promoted policies of “ALL FUELS are IMPORTANT” so that America can remain a world leader, become energy independent and be competitive in manufacturing. Long story short, the Four E’s have been important to me for many years. The four E’s are: Energy, Environmental Protection, Education and Economic Prosperity.

America depends on 88% conventional fuels to power our high quality of life, our manufacturing and is important for National Security. The 88% is not a wild exaggeration, I have posts in other articles on this Blog that support it as being a fact. Yes, one in ten units of energy are from conventional fuels. Attempting to Kill conventional fuels is worse than dumb policy.

Yet, the Leftist Democrat politicians, the main stream news, entertainment personalities, TV and movies all lead the American public to believe that most of our electricity is generated or could be, from renewable power and soon. This is wrong.

I thought it might be useful to show where our electric power comes from when we need it today. A case in point is the PJM Interconnection which provides electricity generation control (like the FAA provides Air Traffic Controls, PJM provides electrical Dispatch controls for most of the northeastern U.S.A. from New Jersey going west to Chicago. Today is a cold day in Philadelphia and there is not a lot of wind and at 0500 AM zero solar. So, where is the power being generated? Here is a real time chart which was available on the PJM.com website. This shows generation by fuel. Note that about a third each is nuclear, coal and natural gas. Out of 104,430 MW’s being generated only 3,342 MWs are from Renewables. This is 3.2% of the 104,430 MW’s being used (needed) this morning.

Feb. 10, 2021 Generation mix by fuels from pjs.com website

Here is a screen shot from a wsj video on the rise of Renewable Power Generation. Usually, the wsj is a factual news organization. I must admit, it is true that 90% of the NEW Generation in 2020 was Renewables, but still this is only a small percentage of the total (about 3.7 % of 1,000GW of total generation capacity). As the above data from PJM shows, 3.2% by renewables, the EIA data for the entire year 2020 was about 3.8% total energy from renewables.

Here is a picture of the Alaska Pipeline. I show this because it is useful to illustrate the amount of energy America depends on each day. About 20 million barrels per day is what America uses in oil. That is used mostly for vehicle transportation, Jet Fuel and industrial output. The Alyeska pipeline passed about 2.2 million barrles per day on it’s most productive year, 1988. So, picture ten pipelines like this to represent the U.S.A.’s oil use. The Keystone Pipleine is rated at 830,000 barrels per day or less than half of the flow in one 48″ diameter Alaska pipeline.

Just as a reminder, America uses about 100.9 Quadrillion Btu’s of total energy each year. This is utilized as shown below on the chart:

Each of us use about 300-330 million Btu’s per year on average. Whether it is coal, natural gas, nuclear, jet fuel, gasoline, Diesel, hydroelectric, Biomass, wind or solar. We depend on this much energy for our life styles, transportation, comfort, cooking, heating, convenience, manufacturing, commerce, mining, manufacturing and National Defense. Think about the importance of energy in your life.

When the President issues Executive Orders to work toward stopping coal plants, killing pipelines, stopping Hydraulic Fracturing for natural gas production, shutting down oil production and stopping use of all Fossil Fuels, it is simply not possible in the short term. Maybe not possible in decades to do without Fossil Fuels. My friend Donn Dears wrote on his Blog recently about the use of coal and fossil fuels for the production of steel and concrete. Together steel and concrete, according to Mr. Dears represented about 12% of all carbon dioxide emissions.

The Democrats and Green Extremists are, whether they understand it or not, working against the best interests of America. They are harming our hard fought struggle to become energy independent. (I understand in November 2020 America was a net exporter of oil for the first time in decades) If we shut down U.S.A. production of energy fuels, then it is making us vulnerable to supply disruptions. I am old enough to remember the Arab Oil Embargo’s of 1973 and 1980. We do not want to return to dependence of volatile supplies of vital fuels or minerals. Dependence on vital minerals such as Lithium, Rare Earth minerals and other ores is a topic for another day.

Another important point. If the Democrats want to save the planet, the best people to produce energy is Americans. We have standards, regulations and practices that have worked well. I submit, look at our stellar record of safety for nuclear and coal plants. The long life of the Alaska pipeline. If sources in America are off limits then the fossil fuels will be imported from other countries that do not have safeguards as effective and proven as ours. How does that improve the environment?

Back to electricity. These were the six top producers of America’s electricity in 2019: Not a bad balance. (data from the EIA)

  1. Natural Gas Fueled Plants         38.4% of USA total
  2. Pulverized Coal Power Plants    23.4% of U.S.A. Total                                              
  3. Nuclear Power Plants                       19.6% of USA total
  4. Hydroelectric generation               7% of USA total
  5. Wind Turbines                                       7.1% of USA total
  6. Solar Power                                             1.7% of USA total

Of course protection of the environment is important. Also important is National Defense, homeland Domestic manufacturing (to keep jobs here), Economic Prosperity, keeping our high quality of life and a fair world trade balance. The four E’s which I think are all very important and should be balanced for truly sustainable living well: Energy, Environmental Protection, Economic Prosperity and Education.

The fourth “E” Education on Energy Matters has not been very well mastered by the President and Democrat politicians.

Thus, my conclusion that


Dick Storm