Coal-fired plant eyes Abilene water

ABILENE, TEXAS - Tenaska, which would need millions of gallons of water each month for its proposed $3.5 billion coal-fired electric power generating plant, has approached Abilene about buying water.

Tenaska representatives have held preliminary discussions with city staff that have focused on the plant's water needs, which have been estimated at as little as 1 million and as many as 10 million gallons per day, depending on how the plant is designed and the cooling system used.

Sweetwater has also taken steps to provide water to the plant. The proposed plant would be about 10 miles east of Sweetwater and 30 miles west of Abilene.

"From the beginning, Tenaska has made it clear that it continues to evaluate various water sources as it moves forward in development of the Trailblazer Energy Center," Tenaska spokeswoman Holley Hatt said.

While Hatt declined to comment further, City Manager Larry Gilley confirmed discussions have taken place.

"It is very early in the process," Gilley said. "We would have to do a great deal more research to determine if we could even supply the capacity that would be needed. I'm not sure at this point what the potential for participation would be."

Abilene uses an average of 22 million gallons of treated water per day. The city has a capacity to treat 50 million gallons of water per day, according to the Abilene Industrial Foundation's Web site.

Gilley said talks with Tenaska are so preliminary it hasn't been determined if the company would be interested in buying treated, raw or effluent water.

There has been "no formal request for us to enter into negotiations to supply water for the Tenaska plant nor has the city of Abilene made any commitment that water would be available for that purpose," he said.

Mayor Norm Archibald has said that as the city looks at developing new sources of water the city needs to be considered a regional water supplier for Abilene to move forward.

City consultants have estimated the Abilene area will face a water deficit of 12,000 acre-feet per year by 2060 if no new sources are developed. An acre-foot is 325,651 gallons, the amount of water it would take to cover an acre of land with a foot of water.

Correspondence from the city attorney's office to Patricia Broadwell, secretary of the Multi-County Coalition, which opposes the plant, indicated the staff would present options to the City Council, which would determine how to proceed.

The Tenaska plant, if it becomes a reality, will be on 2,400 acres and create 1,500 jobs at peak construction, along with 100 permanent positions once the plant is operating.

Tenaska is expected to make a decision on whether to proceed late this year. Commercial operation is targeted to start in 2014.

Sweetwater officials have said Tenaska has said it needs 1.8 million gallons from Sweetwater and that half of it would come from effluent wastewater and the other half would come untreated from Oak Creek Reservoir. Sweetwater water customers use 2.3 million gallons a day.

The proposed plant has drawn opposition from those who believe it could hurt the environment and support from those who believe it will provide much-needed jobs.

"It's beyond my comprehension why they would allow a coal plant to have water before their residents have water and (that) a coal plant will have a priority over residents," Broadwell said.


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