NACOGDOCHES COUNTY, TX (KTRE) - The site of a biomass plant in northern Nacogdoches County is now being considered as a place to build a "gas-fired" generating unit.
Nacogdoches County commissioners approved tax incentives for the plant Tuesday. The move toward natural gas comes when biomass production isn't the "cheapest" nor possibly the "greenest" form of energy.
Southern Power's biomass plant was no sooner in operation in 2012 that competition from natural gas surfaced. A guaranteed 20-year contract with the City of Austin keeps the plant open even though the city is buying primarily cheaper natural gas. Southern Power wants to remain competitive, potentially at the Sacul site.
"So ultimately we'll build for our customers needs, but the applications speak to a gas fired facility because there's piping in that area available," said Jeannice Hall, the senior media relations strategist with Southern Company, the parent company of Southern Power.
Nacogdoches County commissioners approved today a reinvestment zone and tax abatement agreements for the potential projects. Economic developers don't fault Southern Power for expanding its energy portfolio.
"They're going to try to respond. They should respond, to their customers' needs in Austin and buy the cheapest megawatts or kilowatts per hour that they can," said David Alders, the chairman of the Nacogdoches Economic Development Corporation.
Alders said Southern Power should do so even if it means less reliance from renewable power.
"Across the board the renewable energy sector has over promised and probably under delivered because the efficiencies aren't there," Alders said.
Meanwhile, the biomass industry is under fire for its advertising claims. The watchdog group, Partnership for Policy Integrity, lists Southern Company and subsidiaries as one of 17 companies making at least one unsubstantiated claim about low emissions or environmental benefits.
"We focus on running plants safely, efficiently and within all guidelines set forth by our regulatory bodies," Hall said.
Green power has an environmental impact. Natural gas offers a more attractive bottom line. The choice could someday come from the tiny town of Sacul.
Southern Power offers generation from natural gas, solar, and biomass. No plant is built until a customer is secured. So far no commitment has been made.