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Of the 103 million tons of coal Texas consumed in 2006, 96 percent was used to generate electricity; the remainder was used for various industrial purposes.87 Coal is abundant and competitive with natural gas, the leading fuel source for electricity generation in Texas. But it also produces substantial amounts of atmospheric pollutants when burned. By volume, coal produces the highest emissions of carbon dioxide, nitrogen oxides, sulphurous oxides, mercury and arsenic of any fuel, with the exception of high-sulfur fuel oil used in some older plants. Coal mining also can release methane, another greenhouse gas. In Texas, lignite coal deposits are below the surface and must be excavated. Subbituminous coal is shipped by rail from Wyoming and Montana to Texas.

If future governments implement the CO2 reduction strategies being contemplated in the U.S. and elsewhere, coal could face some of the toughest restrictions of all fossil fuels unless new technologies in development, such as carbon sequestration, reduce its emissions.

Still, coal is relatively abundant and is likely to continue to be an important component of the state’s fuel mix. In fact, if new technologies such as carbon sequestration prove effective, coal could have increased prominence.


Per Million Btu (2005) $1.34 for electricity generation;88 $1.54 for direct uses89
Direct Subsidy Share of Total Consumer Spending Federal: 6.9 percent; State and Local: none.90
Notes Coal can be transported by rail, truck, conveyor and water. The transmission of electricity produced from coal entails additional costs. In the long term, synthetic fuels derived from coal may become commercially available as a transportation fuel.

Economic Impact and Viability

Wages and Jobs Coal production contributed 2,241 mining jobs to the Texas economy in 2006 and wages of $167.6 million.91 Available data do not distinguish other jobs attributable to the use of coal at electric utility plants.
Regulatory Climate Coal-fired power plants must obtain air, water and wastewater permits from TCEQ, a process that can require up to four years.92
Texas Competitive Advantage Texas has abundant deposits of lignite coal, though many of its coal plants use cleaner-burning coal from Wyoming. Coal can be less expensive than natural gas, depending on its quality and ease of availability. Texas has the potential for permitting coal plants in West Texas that can be located sufficiently close to areas of high energy demand or near electricity transmission resources. In addition, Texas has opportunities for the sequestration of carbon from integrated gasification combined cycle (IGCC) plants, with potential application to use the waste CO2 for enhance oil recovery.
Notes Coal was used to generate 36.5 percent of Texas electricity in 2006, compared to 49 percent for the U.S. in the same year.93

Availability and Current Infrastructure

Estimated Resources in Texas Approximately 9,490 trillion Btu (2006)94
Current Fuel Production Approximately 592 trillion Btu (2006)95
Consumption in Texas Approximately 1,611 trillion Btu (2006)96
Notes IGCC technology may offer a cleaner future for coal-generated electricity. In the U.S., 12 IGCC plants are in planning stages; one is under construction in Illinois, and another is planned to be built near Sweetwater, Texas.97

Environment, Health and Safety

Greenhouse Gas Emissions Burning coal releases an average of 659.3 pounds of CO2 per million Btu produced. Coal mining also can release methane, another greenhouse gas.98
Air Pollution (Non-Greenhouse Gas) Burning coal for electricity produces 1.8 pounds of NOX, 3.8 pounds of SO2 and 0.01 pounds of mercury per million Btu produced.99
Solid Waste Coal combustion creates ash waste, made up primarily of metal oxides and alkali, at an average rate of 10 percent of the volume of coal burned. Coal mining and processes used to remove air emissions during power generation also create waste.100
Land Use Texas lignite coal requires strip mining, which can cause erosion and disturb the surface for the life of the mine. Federal and state laws require reclamation of the soil when a surface mine closes. Traces of mercury, arsenic and other elements from coal can leach into the nearby soil and water.101
Water Withdrawal Depending upon the plant type, electricity generation from coal requires withdrawals from zero to 14,658 gallons per million Btu of heat produced.102
Water Consumption Coal-fired power generation consumes between zero and 150 gallons per million Btu produced, depending on the plant type.103
Water Quality Water is required for plant cooling. When discharged, this water may contain pollutants that could harm aquatic life and reduce water quality. Uncontrolled runoff from mines can cause surface water pollution. TCEQ regulates and permits these discharges.104
Notes Coal miners face significant occupational risks due to the use of heavy equipment and subsurface conditions. Miners are at risk from exposure to coal dust, methane, arsenic, mercury, sulfur and other hazardous substances that contribute to pulmonary disease.

Fuel Characteristics

Energy Content Lignite coal such as that found in Texas contains an average 13 million Btu per ton. Subbituminous coal, such as that imported from Wyoming, contains an average 17 to 18 million Btu per ton.105
Renewability Coal is a fossil fuel and is not renewable within human lifespans.

Other Issues

Dependence on Foreign Suppliers The U.S. imports very little coal and most of that is from Canada.
Price and Supply Risks Texas imports much of the coal it uses from Wyoming and Montana by rail. Rail capacity and transportation costs can restrict the supply and cost of coal imported into Texas.
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