AUSTIN ”” The permitting process for six coal-fired plants was pushed back four months today, as an administrative panel of judges granted a request from environmental groups who wanted more time to prepare their cases in opposition.
A day after a state court blocked Gov. Rick Perry’s order fast-tracking the permits, a panel of administrative judges set June 27 for the start of hearings over Dallas-based TXU Corp.’s proposal to build six coal-fired plants in North, East and Central Texas.
The process before the State Office of Administrative Hearings, which was to begin today, will be slowed to “provide a bit more time to allow all the parties to fully prepare, have their Ts crossed with response to testimony and that sort of thing,” administrative judge Kerry Sullivan said.
TXU’s five-year, $10 billion plan is considered bellwether and is being closely watched by industry analysts, lawmakers, competitors and environmentalists across the U.S.
“We’re disappointed in the SOAH judges’ action today,” said TXU spokeswoman Kim Morgan. “Texas needs reliable and affordable power, and we’re concerned that today’s action slows progress toward that objective.”
Lawyers for citizen groups opposed to the plants argued that Texas and Oklahoma residents didn’t have enough time to prepare for the high-stakes permit hearings.
“We’ve had numerous problems with the process in this case, and we continue to have those issues,” said Karen Hadden, executive director of the Sustainable Energy and Economic Development Coalition.
Many of the experts and professionals approached by the environmental groups said they didn’t have enough time to adequately analyze the data, said Tom “Smitty” Smith, director of the Texas office of Public Citizen.
“What a bunch of nonsense,” said TXU attorney John Riley, who argued that the groups had not made an adequate effort “in terms of preparing themselves with what was supposed to be a hearing today.”
A state district judge ruled Tuesday that Perry’s executive order to speed the permitting process for 19 proposed plants is not binding on the state hearing administrators.
The state can appeal that ruling, potentially putting the permitting process back on a fast track, but calls to Perry’s office inquiring about an appeal were not immediately returned.
TXU contends the coal plants will lower utility costs and help provide needed power supplies for the future. TXU has argued that unless action is taken now, the electricity supplies in Texas will fall below reliable levels by 2009.
A number of Texas cities and citizen groups oppose the plants. Some critics argue that TXU is rushing to beat more stringent federal restrictions on carbon dioxide emissions in an era of escalating concerns over global warming. Texas already produces more carbon dioxide than any other state.
Shares of TXU fell 94 cents, or 1.7 percent, to $56.07 in trading today on the New York Stock Exchange.