For decades, the electricity that powers East Texas homes and businesses has been provided by power plants fired by coal.
In the beginning that coal came from the ground literally beneath our feet. Seams of lignite run through East Texas and, while it is low quality and polluting, it was good enough until it wasn’t.
That came with the realization the lignite was causing not just air pollution but, with little control at the plants on waste output, also acid rain. That led to more requirements for the power plants to control pollution.
It also led to bringing coal from Montana, Wyoming and North Dakota. The next time you are stopped by a freight train you will likely see dozens of cars carrying coal to East Texas. That coal is much better quality and is mixed with our lignite to fire the plants.
At one time there were at least a half-dozen coal-fired plants in our region, but several have already closed down.
AEP-Southwestern Electric Power Co. still has three coal-fired plants — all heavily dependent on the northern coal — and the company wants to reduce their use in coming years.
It is not a quick or easy process, as might be expected. The most salient question has been what technology to use to replace coal.
At a meeting last week in Longview, representatives of SWEPCO introduced business and government leaders to the way forward, a mix that will depend heavily on wind power with some solar power.
The meeting was designed to help convince our area leaders to support the changes and help ease the conversion.
That is exactly what the leaders — and the rest of us — should do. Consumers won’t notice any difference in the availability of power but will likely see a change in the bottom line. Wind power and solar power are more costly to consumers.
When all things are considered, however, the cost may eventually be much less. Wind power does not produce the ongoing pollution of coal and Texas is already the nation’s top wind power producer.
Wind power also does not increase our carbon footprint. It is a valid way to help fight global warming.
Global warming has already cost our nation an incredible amount of money in dealing with storms and rising water. That will only get more pronounced in the coming years, and its reality now is part of planning being done by business in the U.S. and abroad.
In SWEPCO’s case, this is not government telling industry what to do, this is power experts looking ahead and seeing what is best. Some may argue they are late in making the changes but they are now doing so.
We should follow their lead and support the change. This bit of medicine is not nearly what we might have to take if we don’t act now.