Early Closure of Texas Panhandle Coal Plant Marks Major Shift in Energy Landscape
Texas will have one less coal plant.
The Tolk Station Coal Plant is located in Earth, Texas (yes, there is an Earth in Texas). Earth is located 70 miles northwest of Lubbock and 90 miles southwest of Amarillo. It is a small farming town with about 941 people.
The Tolk Station was originally set to close in 2032. The plant supplies power to Texas and New Mexico and is not a part of ERCOT. Under an agreement, the plant will stop burning coal in 2028.
“As the first energy provider in the nation to set ambitious goals for addressing all the ways our customers use energy – electricity, heating and transportation – we are always striving to provide our customers cleaner energy resources, while saving them money,” said Bob Frenzel, chairman, president and CEO of Xcel Energy. “Advancing the retirement of coal operations at Tolk Station demonstrates our commitment to our clean energy strategy, while ensuring our customers and communities have reliable, affordable and safe service.”
According to the Sierra Club, a grassroots environmental organization, the closure is expected to save millions of gallons of groundwater that comes from the Ogallala Aquifer daily.
“This agreement is welcome news for the countless lives that will be improved, the communities that will now be safeguarded, and our collective future,” said Sierra Club Executive Director Ben Jealous. “The only way to ensure a livable future is by rapidly moving off of coal and investing in cheap and readily available clean energy. Xcel cannot and should not waste this opportunity to grow its clean energy portfolio and the good jobs that come with it.”
The Tolk Station provides power to multiple states and therefore is regulated by both Texas and New Mexico's utility oversight agencies.
On October 13, 2023, Xcel Energy filed an Integrated Resource Plan with the New Mexico Public Regulation Commission to acquire a mix of power-generating options over the next decade to meet Xcel Energy's customer needs in both New Mexico and Texas.
“We have spent months working with our stakeholders and communities to assess future needs and to understand how our customers expect us to meet those obligations,” said Adrian J. Rodriguez, president, Xcel Energy – New Mexico, Texas. “The resulting plan recognizes the importance of keeping power affordable and reliable across our service territory while meeting the goals of the New Mexico Energy Transition Act and our own carbon reduction targets.”
The Tolk Station will currently limit operations and will only operate when it is beneficial for customers.
What does this mean for those employed at the Tolk Station?
According to Adrian Rodriguez, plans for new power generating resources will focus on putting as much existing infrastructure to work as possible to help retain local jobs and increase the local tax bases for counties and schools.
Right now the company is studying a proposal for solar energy, and the Tolk Station could be replaced with a solar generating facility and battery system. By integrating solar plants into the grid system Xcel is expecting to save customers $440 million.
With the coal plant closing operations, that means that the people of the Texas Panhandle will benefit greatly environmentally.
“In a state where heat waves, drought, and high electricity bills are changing daily life as we know it, the transition away from coal just makes sense,” said Nova Jones, field organizer for the Sierra Club. “An earlier retirement and decreased operations of the Tolk coal units are vital for energy economics – coal has long been the most expensive way to produce energy. But even more so, this settlement reflects a step toward greater environmental justice in the entire region, an effort that touches on air pollution and also the sustainability of the water resources people depend on to live.”
Energy Savings Tips
Gallery Credit: Mary K
The Somewhat Small Towns of the Texas Panhandle
Gallery Credit: Sarah Clark
LOOK: Texas Towns With Names From All Over the World
Gallery Credit: Sarah Clark