Vistra to shutter East Texas coal-fired power plant
The Monticello power station, one of Texas’ largest coal-fired plants, will close permanently next year, costing about 200 workers their jobs, the Irving company Vistra Energy said Friday.
The 1,800-megawatt power plant, which opened more than 40 years ago, is the latest in a string of coal plant closures nationwide as a glut of cheap natural gas and continued advances in solar and wind energy technology depress wholesale power prices.
“The market’s unprecedented low power price environment has profoundly impacted its operating revenue and no longer supports continued investment,” said Curt Morgan, chief executive of Vistra. “This was a difficult decision made after a year of careful analysis.”
Monticello, which is in Titus County, is scheduled to cease operations on Jan. 4. Vistra, the legacy company of Texas power giant Energy Future Holdings, which declared bankruptcy in 2014, is the parent of the retail electricity provider TXU and the merchant power company Luminant, which operates the Monticello plant.
The shutdown of the plant must be approved by the grid operator, the Electric Reliability Council of Texas. Last year, ERCOT blocked the shutdown of an NRG power plant out of concern the power loss would compromise the grid’s reliability.
ERCOT will determine whether Vistra can shutter the Monticello by early December, said Robbie Searcy, the ERCOT spokeswoman.
“ERCOT will study whether the Monticello units are needed for transmission system reliability in that portion of the electric grid,” she said.
Vistra’s move comes as both state and federal officials become concerned about the loss of coal-fired and nuclear power plants and the impact on grids ability to deliver power without problems or interruptions. Coal and nuclear power plants are valued because they operate nearly all the time, as opposed to natural-gas fired plants that come on or off line depending of prices or wind and solar, which generate intermittently depending on the weather.
Energy Secretary Rick Perry is pushing the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to adjust the regulations governing wholesale power markets to try and stop further closure of coal and nuclear power plants. In Texas, power companies have warned that they will be unable to invest in new power plants or finance new ones as the design of Texas’ wholesale power markets adds to pressures from low prices and hurts profits.
The state Public Utility Commissions is studying proposals from the power generators to make adjustments to the state’s power markets.
But the outlook for coal plants is unlikely to get any better, said Travis Miller, an energy strategist at the research firm Morningstar. Even with the Trump administration promising to undo environmental regulations that utilities and power companies have long railed against, the flood of wind turbines and gas plants continues to depress power prices in deregulated markets like Texas.