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TXU, cancel the coal fired power plants, go solar - By Peter Bell - Dec 2006

TXU announced in 2006 to spend up to $9 billion dollars on a series of new coal fired power plants to increase electricity generation capacity in Texas.

This is a crazy plan and TXU might be wise to consider a Plan B. The first step of this Plan B would be to cancel the construction of this new coal fired electricity generation capacity.

These new plants would be an environmental disaster for Texas and any carbon taxes imposed in the future would ensure investing in this new capacity would be financial disaster for TXU.

Picture care of the Dallas Morning News

The TXU Plan as it stands

The TXU plan would see the company investing $9 billion in expanding existing coal fired plants and adding 9 new coal fired power stations in Texas by 2012. 

This expansion would see 8,600 Mega Watts of new capacity being installed with 11 Power generating units being added and 9 new sites constructed. This new capacity would add an extra 10% add capacity to ERCOT supply, sufficient for an additional 6.5 million homes.

However, this new capacity would burn an additional 35,000,000 tons of coal per year...

In addition to TXU's plans, other utilities plan on adding an additional 6 plants, 5 coal fired and one petroleum coke fired units. There is already considerable opposition to these new coal fired power plants, witness the Stop The Coal Plant campaign, so what alternatives are available?

Plan B

Investing in expanding solar electricity capacity would add the additional electricity capacity required to handle the forecast growth in Texas electricity demand. Expansion generation capacity using solar assets instead of coal fired assets would actually be the more profitable option for Texas Utilities and would save Texans from having to endure the pollution resulting from burning 35 million tons of coal.

Is this viable?

The TXU coal fired generation expansion plan calls for a $9 billion dollar capital investment, which equates to an investment of approximately $1,250 dollars per Texas home.

Being conservative and working with the $9 billion dollar number, what would $9 billion dollars of capital expenditure get Texas in additional generation capacity if Texans were to install solar panels on each roof in Texas instead of buying 11 new coal fired electricity generating plants.

Estimates put the capital cost of installing the same amount of solar generating capacity at $2,500 per home for a total capital expenditure of $18 billion dollars.

On the surface, solar electric generating assets would seem to be twice as expensive as installing the equivalent coal fired electricity generating capacity...  

What are the real numbers?

There are a number of estimates that say the $9 billion dollar figure is low for the coal expansion plan and $14 billion would be a more realistic number. Solar power has been reducing in cost every year by approximately 5%, so by the 2012 install date, the new solar capacity would cost $14 billion.

Left out of this equation is the fact that it costs a lot of money to buy the coal to power the coal fired generating assets, the sun comes to us for free.

8 million roof's available for solar panels

There are approximately 8 million homes in Texas and 35 solar panels per home would use 250 square feet of roof space. Current solar panels are rated so that each house would be rated at a 600 watt capacity.

The sun is out for an average of 10 hours per day in Texas, so the effective maximum output per house would be approximately 36,000 watt hours. This means that each home fitted with 35 solar panels would produce approximately 350kw hours per day.

This capacity would be the equivalent of 3,000 mega watts of capacity, which on the surface seems so short of the 8.6 mega watts called for in the TXU plan. However, installing solar panels at the point of use, eliminates the up to 50% transmission losses normally incurred transmitting a centralized power plant's output to the end consumer, so the full 8.6 mega watts is not required.   

TXU's competitive edge

Installing solar panels on Texas homes means that TXU would still maintain its its claimed "Competitive Edge" by selling electricity into a market priced off the price of natural gas but not generated using natural gas.

The only difference for TXU choosing solar generating assets, would be that instead of using coal as the energy carrier, millions of solar panels would provide the electricity required to power the expanding Texas economy.

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