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Natural Gas-Fired Plant Announced for Lee County, Texas

A Texas-based energy company has announced plans to build a 1.2-GW natural gas-fired power plant in Lee County, Texas, with construction expected to begin in 2025.

Sandow Lakes Energy Co. on Feb. 12 said it would build the plant on property owned by the company. The facility, which would be powered by two SGT6-9000HL turbines from Siemens Energy, is expected to come online by 2028.

Sandow Lakes, about 60 miles east of Austin, was formerly the site of a 1950s-era integrated industrial complex that housed an Alcoa aluminum smelter. The site included a 1.2-GW coal-fired power plant operated by Luminant, a subsidiary of Vistra Corp.; that plant was closed in 2018. The coal plant, along with industrial buildings at the site, are in the process of being partly demolished, with the new natural gas-fired power plant part of the location’s repurposing as the Sandow Lakes Ranch master planned development.

Stan Gerdes, a Texas state representative for the district that includes Sandow Lakes, said, “For the citizens of this region, losing Alcoa after six decades of manufacturing was a blow to the entire region. But with the advent of Sandow Lakes, the folks living here have renewed enthusiasm for the area, their families and for the future.”

Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, speaking at the Texas Power Grid Investment Summit on Feb. 6, said if private investment can’t be secured for more gas-fired power plants, the state will provide the funding for new facilities.

“If we can’t get an incentive program to attract investors to build, then the state would have to build [more gas-fueled power infrastructure] ourselves and then subcontract out for someone else to run it,” Patrick said. “We can’t sit and do nothing.”

Sandow Lakes Energy said the Siemens-built turbines would have “the capability of operating on hydrogen with only minor modifications to the equipment,” and would provide “reliable power generation to the region while supporting decarbonization goals.”

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott in a statement said, “As Texas continues to grow, increasing the capacity and reliability of our power grid is critical. This Sandow Lakes plant will provide 1,200 megawatts of dispatchable power, providing enough electricity for hundreds of thousands of homes. Through partnerships with companies like Sandow Lakes and Siemens, our state will ensure we continue to deliver reliable power to every Texas home.”

Texas has been plagued by power shortages in recent years that have resulted in blackouts, including a days-long disruption in power from Winter Storm Uri in February 2021. The Texas Tribune, citing data from the Department of State Health Services, reported that 246 deaths in the state were attributed to the storm. The state also experienced significant power impacts from Winter Storm Elliott in December 2022.

The Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT), which operates Texas’ power grid, in October of last year sought bids to increase the state’s electricity supply by at least 3 GW. The group said new generation could come from both dispatchable power units, and demand response strategies. ERCOT said dispatchable resources include nuclear, coal, natural gas, biomass and energy storage, but said it did not include solar and wind power. The grid operator said the output of wind and solar could not be controlled based on instructions from ERCOT.

The grid operator has issued several Operating Condition Notice (OCN) declarations over the past few years, asking participants in the state’s deregulated power market system to be prepared for emergency conditions. Officials have often asked electricity customers to conserve power during periods of extreme heat or cold. A January OCN was issued ahead of expected extreme cold; several were issued last summer during periods of extreme heat.

Sandow Lakes Energy Co. in a news release said the company “was formed for the purpose of developing, operating and investing in energy projects in Texas to support the Sandow Lakes property and the rapidly growing electricity demand within the State. Sandow Lakes Energy Company, LLC is committed to utilizing available clean and efficient technologies in connection with its developments.”

State Senator Lois Kolkhorst, who represents the district around Sandow Lakes, said, “Texas needs dispatchable thermal generation to provide power for our growing state. That’s why I am pleased to host this new natural gas plant in Lee County. This is exciting news for the future of our region and an important step for all Texans who will benefit from a new source of clean and reliable energy.”

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