Coal-fired 1,300MW Las Brias power plant wins permit in Texas

By Dorothy Davis

Texas regulators have approved an air permit for the proposed coal-fired Las Brias Energy Center on the Corpus Christi Inner Harbor.

The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) approved the air permit for the $3 billion coal-fired project Wednesday after hearing more than 45 minutes of testimony.

The air permit sets firm boundaries on the amount of sulfur dioxide, mercury and other pollutants the plant could emit.

The project has been at the center of an ongoing dispute between the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and state environmental administrators concerning pollution control plans since 2008.

In 2010, two administrative law judges recommended denial of the permit or return to the state for further review for Las Brias. In their most recent recommendations, the two judges have said the TCEQ acted improperly by assisting the company in changing some of its computer-generated pollution models used in the permitting process.

On Monday, the EPA expressed concerns about the Las Brias project in a letter asking the TCEQ commissioners to deny the air permit for the coal-fired energy center until greater details were provided by its developer on how the facility would meet updated air quality standards. However, the TCEQ did not take the EPA letter into consideration during proceedings Wednesday because it had not been submitted as part of the legal record of the case.

Although construction can begin on the Las Brias Energy Center, the project must still clear additional regulatory hurdles for wastewater and greenhouse gas permits.

If completed, the coal-fired Las Brias Energy Center would utilize four circulating fluidized-bed boilers boasting a total gross generating capacity of 1,300 megawatts.

According to the Las Brias Energy Center website, separate economic impact studies commissioned by the Corpus Christi Economic Development Corporation and Chase Power show the Las Brias project would create more than 1,300 direct and 2,600 indirect jobs over the 4-5 year construction period, as well as 80 to 100 permanent jobs and 150 to 175 indirect jobs once the power plant is up and running.

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