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A view from the 17th story of the Gibbons Creek Steam Electric Station shows the accordion-like limestone scrubbers connected to the smokestack, the coal pile in the distant yard and fly ash storage ponds to the left. The Texas Municipal Power Agency’s plant is 20 miles east of College Station.

Residents in Bryan and College Station are scrambling after learning that an Arizona business has offered to buy a shuttered coal-fired power plant in nearby Grimes County.

Denton is part owner of the Gibbons Creek power plant with Bryan, Garland and Greenville. The four cities mothballed the plant two years ago and were ready to decommission it. Many residents in and near the Grimes County facility want the site cleaned up.

College Station resident Raymond Tarpley, a professor at Texas A&M University, said that after the last deal to sell the plant fell through two years ago, there was no indication publicly of a change in plans.

“We were blind-sided by this,” Tarpley said, adding that after the power plant appeared on upcoming projections for the state’s power grid, local officials involved in the sales talks were bound to secrecy.

In other words, little information has been forthcoming, Tarpley said.

Trade publication S&P Global Market Intelligence reported in May that Frontier Applied Sciences, a technology investment firm based in Scottsdale, Arizona, was the buyer. A consultant for the company said the plan was to reopen the plant for summer 2021.

But state documents show the power plant in service on Nov. 1, according to The Eagle, the newspaper for Bryan and College Station.

The company’s CEO, Matthew McKean, did not return a call for comment.

Tarpley understood why the cities, as the plant’s owners through their partnership in the Texas Municipal Power Agency, would want to sell Gibbons Creek rather than pay the decommissioning costs. However, as their area continues to grow — the Bryan-College Station population grew about 10% in the past decade — that growth may be hampered by the rekindling of dirty, coal-fired power, Tarpley said.

“With a coal plant at our doorstep, to incorporate that land is not a good investment,” he said.

Moreover, the local utility has no intention of buying power from the plant, he said.

“Really, what’s in it for us?” he asked.

The primary reason the plant was mothballed was that it could no longer compete with the changing Texas electrical market. Denton, for example, abandoned its stake in the power plant in exchange for cheaper power from renewable energy providers and a new natural gas fired power plant that generates electricity on demand.

Coal plants are slower to fire up and power down, making them more expensive to run as renewable energy fills the Texas electric market.

Residents in Grimes County and in Bryan and College Station have since organized a campaign opposing the current sale. On June 30, they submitted a petition with nearly 1,700 signatures to the Denton City Council, and to the councils of the other partner cities, asking them to oppose the sale of the plant and to continue with decommissioning.

No action has yet been scheduled for the Denton city council’s consideration.

PEGGY HEINKEL-WOLFE can be reached at 940-566-6881 and via Twitter at @phwolfeDRC.

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