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TCEQ approves air permit for proposed Riesel power plant

Thursday, May 18, 2006

By J.B. Smith
Waco-Tribune-Herald staff writer

The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality granted an air permit Wednesday for a coal-fired power plant in Riesel, despite concerns from area legislators and opposition from environmental groups, which plan to appeal the decision.

State Sen. Kip Averitt, R-Waco, and state Rep. Jim Dunnam, D-Waco, both wrote letters urging TCEQ commissioners to study the cumulative impact of the Riesel plant and half a dozen other coal-fired plants planned in McLennan, Freestone, Robertson and Milam counties.

The three-member commission voted unanimously for the permit to LS Power, though some commissioners, including Larry Soward, echoed concerns about the cumulative impact of area coal plants.

Environmental groups plan to appeal the decision based on that issue, as well as the question of whether LS Power is proposing the cleanest available coal-burning technology, said Tom "Smitty" Smith, Texas director of Public Citizen.

He said the coal-fired plants could affect air quality both in Waco and in the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex, which already exceeds safe smog levels. Power companies are seeking permission for seven plants with nine coal-fired burners in Central Texas. TXU is seeking to replace gas-fired power plants in eastern McLennan County with three coal-fired burners and build a two-burner lignite plant in Robertson County, upwind of McLennan County.

A representative of Dunnam asked commissioners Wednesday to put the permit process on hold until the TCEQ has studied the cumulative impact of all the potential coal-fired plants upwind of Waco. Dunnam said late Wednesday he will seek a TCEQ public meeting in Waco on that issue.

"Itís a concern Iím sure is shared by most people who are downwind," he said. "People can appreciate the need for a new power plant, but when it goes from one new plant to at least seven, I think everyone says, ĎAre you sure this is OK?"í

LS Power project manager Mike Vogt said the permit decision Wednesday is a "major milestone" in the "painfully slow process" of getting the Riesel plant permitted and built.

He said LS Power is seeking customers for its energy, but its goal is to bid the project this summer and break ground this fall. 757-5752

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